WHT Editorial: Recycling changes leave us all asking serious questions

The changes to the Hawaii County recycling program on Oct. 16 caught nearly everyone off guard — and this newspaper isn’t an exception.

Now, environmentally conscious people across the island are scrambling to find ways to continue to recycle items like office paper, newspapers and plastics, which the county used to accept but no longer does.

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Unfortunately, West Hawaii Today can’t help much — at least not yet.

Business Services Hawaii, which handles the county’s recycling, also handles ours. The company cited the loss of markets for the recycled materials, particularly in China and Southeast Asia, as a reason they could no longer ship the material to recycling plants abroad.

The problem isn’t just here.

Last month, America’s largest trash hauler, Waste Management Inc., announced it is no longer shipping plastics to countries outside North America due to lack of market, various outlets reported.

After the county program change was announced, this newspaper was flooded with questions if we could help recycle our subscribers’ papers. We cannot. Which is a shame. We’re a massive producer of newspapers, but anchored on the same island as everyone else, subject to the same rules.

Were we able to help customers divert sending their print copies to the landfill, we would have run into some logistical and liability issues about how to collect them. But, rest assured, those would have been enjoyable to figure out — and figure out we would have.

Readers of this daily paper have told us — both privately and publicly — that an option is to cancel their subscription. Some already have.

Here, the pains of business and greater-good collide.

“No don’t,” we say, followed by, “but we understand the decision is a personal one.”

One would be reasonable to argue that this day for print everywhere has long been coming. It’s been the nature of the beast since the day online news began to flourish. We’re proud of our print newspaper and equally so of our e-edition, which is the online replica pages of the daily newspaper in pdf format that can be turned with the click of a mouse.

No, it’s not the same as the feel of morning print in your hand with a cup of coffee nearby. Those of you out there who still love that feeling — as the author of this editorial does — know there’s nothing that substitutes for that.

But the e-edition is close.

The replica pages look clean. When you click on the article, an online version pulls up on right side of the screen, so you get both print text and the more magnified online text. It’s available with your regular subscription and we invite readers to see for themselves at www.westhawaiitoday.com. It’s on the top right side of the screen. Plus, our website updates information constantly throughout the day, so more content is generally available for the paper-less buck.

As for those plastic bags that newspapers come in, those we can reuse. Put them all into one bag and drop them off at our office, 75-5580 Kuakini Highway, so we can get them to your carriers.

One reader asked what the ingredients were in the ink our paper uses. The question was to determine whether the newspapers can be used as mulch. We’re finding out that answer, so please stay tuned.

But if this change also brought with it an alarm for what the future of print looks like, understand we’re not taking that question lightly. Is online, the e-edition, the way to go? These are sound questions. When business and environmental impacts butt, clear, definite priorities must be established.

The same can be said for all of Hawaii Island.

How much taxpayer money are we as an island willing to commit to ensure we can recycle again? How many personal behaviors as individuals are we willing to change?

Officials suggested a small remedy everyone can implement right away is to stop being a consumer of the products no longer being accepted, such as single-use plastics. Have our eyes become sharper when we’re at the grocery store looking at the foods that shine in those seemingly innocuous but actually harmful containers?

As for money, Hawaii County Environmental Managing Director Bill Kucharski hit the nail on the head with his recent observation.

He said last month that the county could continue the program, if it wanted to pump more money into it, as the County of Kauai did to theirs.

With the cost of recycling the materials running about 50% higher than the cost of landfilling, there’s only so much the county can afford, he said, so it becomes an issue of setting priorities.

The $1.1 million annual contract with Business Services Hawaii has been knocked down a few hundred thousand dollars since the change. But what if the change that comes with this requires a multi-million waste to energy plant as Oahu has? That’s a major investment.

“Everybody is willing for the county to spend more money until the bill comes due,” Kucharski said.

The bill, in a budget that he’s trying to hold steady, can come in the form of reduced services elsewhere and not just in dollars, he added.

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He’s scheduled to give an update on the situation to the Committee on Agriculture, Water, Energy and Environmental Management 1:30 p.m. today in Hilo.

We wish we could offer more right now. In the meantime, we’re asking ourselves, as everyone else should be, some serious internal questions.