Market demand prompts recycling changes as of Oct. 16

  • David Rees-Thomas deposits his recyclables in the mixed bin at the Kealakehe Recycle Station in late 2018. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today, file)

KAILUA-KONA — As the international market for recycling material takes a nosedive, the County of Hawaii is being forced to adapt and will downsize its recycling program.

As of Oct. 16, the county’s two-bin recycling program will only collect corrugated cardboard, brown paper bags, and glass bottles and jars. Paper and plastics will not be accepted at county recycling and transfer stations as of that date.

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The current two-bin recycling program includes a bin for recycling of paper, plastic, cardboard, aluminum and tin, and a bin for non-HI-5 glass.

The Department of Environmental Management’s solid waste division chief Gregory Goodale said the downsizing is a direct result of the changing global recycling markets.

China, who traditionally was one of the largest buyers of recycled materials, stopped accepting most types of paper and plastic recycling last year. Goodale said other countries throughout Asia, such as Indonesia, Vietnam and India, that are also buyers of U.S. recycling material have become oversaturated with the material as a result.

“The buyers of this material have been so picky about the types of material they’ll take, or they’re just not taking it at all, because there’s a big glut in the overall markets for things like No. 1 or No. 2 plastics,” Goodale said. “The guys that would normally take the recyclables coming from our vendor, Business Services Hawaii, they told them they can’t take that material from them anymore. The only material that their buyers told them they can readily accept from them is the corrugated cardboard and the brown paper bags.”

Glass will still be accepted at recycling and transfer stations because of a subsidy the county receives from the state for recycled glass that are then processed back into usable items.

“If it wasn’t for that subsidy, the county probably wouldn’t be able to take that glass either,” Goodale said.

Glass that can be collected includes clean, non-HI-5 bottles and jars with no caps, covers or lids.

Metal cans previously accepted as part of the program will be collected in the scrap metal bins found at select recycling and transfer stations.

The HI-5 beverage container redemption program will remain in effect.

Goodale said the downsizing to the recycling program will be long-term.

“All the market indicators we’re seeing globally are pointing toward markets aren’t getting better anytime soon. That may change, if some of the glut of materials runs out,” Goodale said. “And a lot of it has to do with what energy costs. The cheaper energy costs sometimes make it easier for recycling plants to operate. If the energy prices go up, it may start to further push people out of this.”

The county will evaluate potential, environmentally responsible alternatives to the two-bin program.

Goodale said the focus at the moment for the department is finding local uses for recycled paper, and the county will engage in public outreach to find any viable businesses that could take paper for non-traditional uses.

“We have a company right now, called Puna Kamalii, they take newspapers from a couple of our sites and use it to pack their flowers,” Goodale said. “Now that’s a really small percentage of the paper we get, but it represents a thing that can be done with paper.”

A future compost facility could also be a solution to the county’s new lack of paper recycling.

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“Later this year, we do expect our compost facility to go online,” Goodale said. “And once that’s online, the compost facility will be able to take paper and mix it in with the green waste and the food waste and turn it into compost.”

A full list of recyclable items accepted by the county’s recycling and transfer stations can be found at hawaiizerowaste.org/2-bin.

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