One of the blessings of this trip is being able to have educated conversations with one of the people responsible for recycling programs out here in Hawaii. It’s been a great warm up on this journey to reengage in the discussions of waste management that I enjoyed in the classes and interviews leading up to my graduation from Metropolitan State University in Denver, CO. In my conversations and visual touring of places around the island of Kauai, there have been several things that point in one direction – to the effective capture and separation of consumed materials as a key factor holding back increased recycling rates. This is a bold statement, and one many readers won’t understand off the bat; so let’s take a minute to break this down.
One of the first things I recognized about being in Hawaii is that the types of recycling accepted is far out of proportion to what I am currently accustomed to. In the majority of North America, recycling systems accept the majority of plastics, including Styrofoam products. The reason for this ties into several global factors. The first is a concern about the value of shipping things in adequate quantity. When a manufacturer or point of sale location orders product, they generally follow principles of economics where the products will be delivered ‘on time’; or when they will be needed for the purpose of the specific operation. These quantities are required to fill demand, in this case the second concern – sufficient quantities of source separated product. For post-consumer plastics there are many aspects of the brokerage requirements, including minimum packaging requirements, generally at minimum – one shipping container of source separated product. This requirement is the same in Denver as it is in Kauai.
I have been pleased with the interaction I have been able to have with the Kauai Solid Waste Management representatives and the level of presence they have attained here in Kauai. I have found many aspects of the recycling program quite interesting. The first is that there is a Bottle Bill in place, and actually it is the last one passed in the US, “celebrating over 6.6 billion containers in the last decade”, according to the official government’s info website. That’s a lot of plastic!
In addition to the idea that only #1 and #2 plastics are currently processed through a recycling stream, at the county’s government building in Lihue, HI for example there are 4 separate recycling containers! They are for: a) 1 and 2 plastics only (no black plastic allowed), Glass and Aluminum, Cardboard, and Steele. This system is designed to allow members of the community access to drop of materials should they so decide. For businesses, this type of separation will prove cumbersome. In order to increase the overall effectiveness of closing the loop between purchase and capture of consumable packaging single stream recycling will have to become available for this island nation.
For many, the culture of recycling on the island is becoming one that has the look and feel of a natural process. Throughout the communities are recycling drop of stations where HI5 and other materials can be dropped off. There are accessible containers in many parts of the community and overall the towns I have been to all have minimum micro trash issues. It may be due to the lack of single stream systems, but I have noticed that the majority of business spaces do not have public recycling. Businesses like the ABC Stores, banks and restaurants may have in house systems for their employees to use in the back of the house, but the access to the common public is sorely lacking. Municipalities will find this struggle to be one that cannot be won unless the process is easy to manage – like single stream recycling offers.
In order to build this type of facility, there are going to be many steps to the process. Fortunately for the citizens, many steps of the process are well under way. To have a closed community with both a plastic bag ban and a bottle bill is a wonderful thing to find. Unfortunately there are battles that still have to be fought. Corporations seeking to sell mass incineration systems regularly press municipalities attempting to convince government officials that purchasing this incineration management system is the solution to their problems. We already know that burning anything leads to excess greenhouse gasses, something that is bad. ( If you want to know more – check this page out – it’s great for your whole family!)
For more information on recycling programs in Kauaii, HI please check out this awesome page!