Refining Recycling on Kauai

Worldwide, recycling programs are facing challenges. Your recycling could be ending up in the landfill if you’re not sorting it right when you drop it off, and a new sign on the Kauai Recycles green drop bins is now reminding the public: “when in doubt throw it out.”

The sign has been posted for several months on drop bins at the eight residential deposit locations around Kauai, and it’s been triggering questions from the community.

Lihue resident Sydney Theadora took a second look at the sign while dropping off her recycling on Monday at the Lihue site.

“We recycle everything, we’re here all the time,” Theadora said. “Looking at the sign, I’m not sure what goes where. It’s confusing. You see ‘when in doubt throw it out’ and it sounds sad.”

The message is a take on a nationwide campaign to help tighten up recycling and should help more recyclables actually get off the island, according to Keiola Aki, Kauai’s recycling program coordinator.

Aki is the man who suggested Kauai use the phrase, which has become popular in the wake of China’s 2018 decision to stop accepting mixed paper and plastics.

That incident triggered a worldwide restructuring of recycling programs, resulting in stricter standards on materials that are accepted — on Kauai that caused the recycling program to stop accepting clamshells.

It’s also made it harder for Kauai Recycles contractor Garden Isle Disposal to market and sell those recyclables. Things that can’t be recycled end up in the landfill.

So, the sign is posted to bring everybody up to speed on the situation.

“It’s for education,” Aki said. “The plastics, especially, have to be sorted the right way.”

There are six separate deposit slots on each of the Kauai Recycles drop bins. Items that are accepted in the program are mixed paper like newspapers, magazines, food boxes and junk mail; corrugated cardboard; plastics #1 and #2, bottles and jars only; glass bottles and jars and household metals like aluminum cans, steel food cans, and aluminum foil and pans.

Each of those items have to be sorted and baled at the GID facility according to their category. Plastics are tricky because some items — juice bottles for instance — contain two or more types of plastic. Usually, it’s the lid that throws trouble into the mix.

“If you have lids in the bale of plastic, they don’t accept it. You can’t recycle those different types of plastic together,” said Kauai’s solid waste coordinator Allison Fraley.

In fiscal year 2019 the Kauai Recycles program gathered 2,187.94 tons of recyclables. Of that total, 4.8% was plastic. Cardboard took the lead on types of recyclables with 42.9%, junk mail was next with 30.8%, glass was 14.5% aluminum was 0.01%, and steel was 3.5%.

Remember, people can also use the state HI-5 program for materials like aluminum and glass, plastics and steel.

Lihue resident Sydney Theadora drops off her recycling at a Kauai Recycles drop bin.

Kauai Recycles also keeps track of activity by site, and according to their statistics, the Lihue site gathered the most recyclables in fiscal year 2019, with 497 tons. Kapaa came in second with 471 tons, then Hanalei with 373 tons. Lawai followed with 233 tons, then Poipu with 208 tons, Hanapepe with 190 tons, Waimea with 116 tons, and Kekaha with 24 tons.

None of Hawaii’s counties own or operate recycling facilities, according to County of Kauai. Instead, they bid processing out to companies that have the space and equipment to do the job. It’s expensive — the baler alone is about $600,000.

Making sure recyclables are sorted when they’re deposited helps ensure that the whole process actually works and leads to Kauai’s recyclables being sold at market and reused.

When it comes to plastic, the Kauai Recycles programs accepts the following with no caps: detergents, shampoo, lotion, vitamins, mayonnaise and peanut butter jars, spray bottles without nozzles, peanuts and kim chee jars and more. All of them have to be No. 1 and No. 2 plastic.

Redemption centers also accept HI5 plastic beverage containers that are labeled with “HI 5 cents, HAWAII 5 cents, and Hawaii 5 cents” labels.

The Kauai Recycles program doesn’t accept No.1 to No.7 clamshells, tubs, and trays.

Written for The Garden Island newspaper. Printed October 15, 2019. Photos by Jessica Else. 

Published by jessicaelse

Jessica Else is an award-winning journalist and author, currently living in the Pacific Northwest. While she's dabbled in many subjects during her writing career, Jess enjoys writing about agriculture and sustainability projects, endangered animals, health and wellness, festivals and food, and outdoor adventuring.

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