Why doesn’t Hawai‘i County currently recycle other types of paper?

The process to recycle paper from Hawai‘i County is complex.  Hawai‘i Island has a low population density spread over a vast area which makes collecting recyclables costly and resource intensive.  Transportation costs are high because Hawai‘i Island is over 3,000 miles from the closest paper manufacturing plant.

Taking into consideration factors such as collection cost, market prices for recycled materials, and importantly greenhouse gas emissions, at this time, it is less environmentally harmful to landfill most types of paper.

The Department of Environmental Management is conducting a Life Cycle Assessment of all of our current and potential recycling programs to make the best management decisions based on science.  Recycling paper is a good thing, however if the greenhouse gas emissions contribute more than are saved in our situation, it is not environmentally sound.  We look forward to sharing the results with Island residents once the study is complete.

We encourage people to look to the EPA’s Solid Waste Hierarchy which encourages everyone to Reduce and Reuse our materials prior to Recycling. https://www.epa.gov/smm/sustainable-materials-management-non-hazardous-materials-and-waste-management-hierarchy

Why is the County of Hawai‘i collecting fewer types of recyclables?

Beginning in 2013 global markets for recycling became more restrictive and as a result the recyclables collected less valuable.  Currently there is a worldwide glut of unwanted recyclables and that has impacted the County of Hawai‘i’s Drop-Off Recycling Program.  Due to these changes, the Drop-Off Recycling Program has adapted by concentrating on those commodities that are in demand or can be reused on-island.

The County continues to monitor market conditions and research potential environmentally-friendly and economical alternatives to divert materials from our landfills.  We appreciate our residents cooperation in recycling clean and recycling right.

What product takes up the most space in US landfills?

According to the US EPA, the material most frequently encountered in MSW landfills is plain old paper, it sometimes accounts for more than 40 percent of a landfill’s contents. Newspapers alone can take up as much as 13 percent of the space in US landfills.

Biodegradable materials, including paper, do not easily decompose once they are disposed of in a landfill. Paper is many times more resistant to deterioration when compacted in a landfill than when it is in open contact with the atmosphere or your compost pile.  A study by William Rathje, who runs the Garbage Project, has shown that, when excavated from a landfill, newspapers from the 1960s can be intact and readable.

Consider shredding your non-glossy paper and adding it to your compost pile.  The ‘āina will thank you for it.

Why is it important to sort my recyclables according to guidelines?

The processing facility is a combination of mechanical and manual sorting operations designed to produce the highest quality material streams at a manageable cost. Contaminants in the recyclables increase the costs of separating them at the processing facility, manual sorting and clogged machinery slows the processing of recyclables. Too many contaminants can render the end product unusable thus wasting resources. If the processor deems our collected materials as excessively contaminated they can reject the load and it will end up in a landfill. Better quality recyclables yield better prices and lowers the cost of the recycling to the County.

Do not put your recyclables in a plastic bag and dump the bag in the bin, this will only clog the machinery and may relegate the whole bagful to the rubbish bin.

It is important to remember that your recycled materials will be used to make new products. Quality matters and the better you follow the guidelines, the less sorting and contamination we will face at the drop-off center and the more money that can go back into the community to improve recycling.

What happens to the materials that aren’t recyclable? Don’t they just get recycled anyway?

As much as we would like to recycle everything we receive, it’s a matter of market demand.  We cannot collect and process materials if there is no one to buy them economically.  Similarly, if we include too much “junk” with our materials (such as shredded paper or plastic bags mixed in with the cardboard), we risk losing buyers and/or getting a lower price for our materials which will cost more in the end. Undesirable materials and contaminants are landfilled.

Who picks up my recycling and where is it processed?

The County of Hawai`i currently does not have curbside rubbish or recycling pick-up services. There are private entities island-wide that provide this service. Please refer to the yellow pages for rubbish and recycling pick up services.