LIHUE — Governments and citizens around the world are slowly finding out trash is “too good to throw away,” as the title of a book authored by scientist Allen Hershkowitz suggests.
“Kauai does not generate waste; Kauai generates highly refined valuable resources that have markets throughout the world,” Hershkowitz told the Kauai County Council this week.
Hershkowitz and resource analyst Darby Hoover, both from the Natural Resources Defense Council, gave the council a presentation on the benefits of going all-out toward recycling.
If the national recycling average of 33 percent was increased to 75 percent, about 1.5 million jobs would be created, Hershkowitz said.
With proper management of recyclables and green waste, he said he believes Kauai can achieve a 60 to 70 percent diversion rate in the next five to seven years.
Allison Fraley, county Solid Waste Program coordinator, said in an email Friday Kauai’s waste diversion has been steadily increasing in the last 10 years, and is currently at a 40 percent rate. The county, she said, is on track to achieve a 70 percent diversion rate by 2023.
“Increase in the diversion rate is attributable to a variety of factors including availability of programs, introduction and enforcement of legislation, having economic incentives in place such as the Hi5 program, and an increase of awareness and participation,” Fraley said.
In addition to current efforts and continued program expansions, Fraley said the county is working on several initiatives, including the development of a Materials Recovery Facility, implementing laws that mandate recycling at businesses and on construction sites, introducing a “Pay As You Throw” system for residential trash, and adding blue recycling carts and green yard waste carts at the curb.
Some people drop off their recyclables and say it’s worth it, too.
“It’s enough to pay for lunch,” said Hanamaulu resident Jason Butac Friday afternoon, as he held $17 he made from bringing a load of recyclables to the Garden Isle Disposal recycling facility in Ahukini.
GID staff Cy Morashige said the facility usually gets pretty busy right after lunch, and then again before closing time.
Why is recycling important?
Landfills generate methane, a powerful greenhouse gas and costly to capture. But burning trash to produce electricity still throws greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, which is as close as 11 miles from Earth.
There are other reasons trash should not be burned, Hershkowitz said. About 75 to 80 percent of materials in landfills should be recycled for ecological and economical reasons.
Burning trash is the most expensive method of generating power, the majority of materials in municipal landfills cannot be considered renewable fuel, and burning is a one-time deal versus recycling materials to be used over and over.
Compared to waste combustion, he said, recycling one ton of metals produces 1,700 more jobs, one ton of glass produces 785 more jobs, one ton of paper produces 410 more jobs, one ton of plastics produces 100 times more jobs, and one ton of rubber and leather produces 920 more jobs.
Compost recycling can be important, too. The county offers compost bins for those who want to.
The secret to successful recycling, Hershkowitz said, is funding it.
The private sector that puts out products that have packages ending up at landfills could be the answer.
The nation’s economy, he said, would be well served if municipal waste was reclassified as manufacturers’ waste, and the waste became a financial obligation of the consumer-product companies.
Far fetched? Think again.
The vast majority of European countries adopted producer-responsibility legislation for packaging and paper as of 2011.
More than half of Canada has either a producer-responsibility legislation in place or pending, or a proposed legislation currently under consideration. Industry cost-share in many Canadian municipalities range from 50 to 100 percent.
Latin American countries such as Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico are moving toward similar types of legislation, Hershkowitz said.
Additionally, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel and Australia have some type of producer responsibility legislation.
Visit www.kauai.gov/recycling for more information.