Curbside recycling the next necessary step

Now that the county has passed “Pay As You Throw,” with the stated goal to reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill and encourage recycling, its next step should be to establish curbside recycling.

It’s no secret that it’s not exactly easy to recycle here. If you want money back for aluminum cans, beer bottles and plastic beverage bottles, you have to stockpile them and haul them to one of the Reynolds Recycling facilities. As for the stuff you don’t get money for, such as steel cans, cardboard, newspaper, wine bottles and plastic milk jugs, you have to bring them to the one of the county sites that accepts them, or drive to a recycling station, such as the one near Kukui Grove Center.

If you’re one of those who doesn’t want to store recyclables around your home, who worries about creating a mess in your garage or outside for fear of attracting rodents and bugs, the most convenient choice is to toss it in the trash.

We’re guessing an awful lot of items that could be recycled end up in the landfill on Kauai because it’s the easiest way to deal with the problem.

Over the past 10 years, Kauai’s diversion rate has been steadily climbing. In 2002, it was roughly half of what it is today, at just 22 percent. In 2009, it was up to 29 percent.

But in 2013, recycling programs diverted a total of 43 percent of the solid waste generated on Kauai; however, the Kekaha Landfill still received 74,000 tons — an average of more than 200 tons per day.

About 60 percent of that landfill tonnage, county officials estimate, could have been reused, recycled or repurposed.

The county is attempting to remedy that in part with Pay As You Throw, which charges residents based on how much trash they toss out.

The next step should be a curbside recycling program. In other areas, known as single-stream recycling, it works like this: Everything you want to recycle — glass, aluminum, steel, newspaper, plastic —goes into the same container, which is picked up weekly by a city, county or company hired to do the job.

Mind you, recycling isn’t cheap, either. The county already pays out quite a bit for recycling.

For fiscal year 2015, the county has budgeted $3.04 million for its program. Nearly half that, $1.35 million, is allocated for green waste processing. The rest is divvied out for different line items — $560,000 for Kauai Recycles, $120,000 for household hazardous waste, $363,000 for metals recycling and $80,000 for used tires processing.

To create curbside recycling, the county needs a Materials Recovery Facility, expected to cost between $5 and $6 million, not including land or external infrastructure costs. Last year, the county administration unveiled its plan to fast track an MRF, calling it “critical” to developing a strong residential recycling program.

County Engineer Larry Dill said a contracted consultant has already developed a conceptual design for the MRF, with facility throughout estimates (the amount of recyclable material projected to be processed), a process flow diagram and equipment performance specifications.

The final conceptual design plan, estimate on equipment costs, drafting and finalizing the Environmental Assessment and assistance with the development of procurement documents for final design and operations are part of that contract; however, those tasks are on hold until the county finalizes where the facility would go.

The plan is to have an MRF operating by the end of 2017.

A backup plan would be to solicit a private-sector operator to accept and process single-stream recycling from the county’s residential curbside recycling service. In that case, a contractor would need to locate a site and build a MRF in order to bid on the job. That would be costly, too.

No matter what decisions are made, it will prove costly as Kauai continues to deal with limited land to handle an endless stream of solid waste.

Curbside recycling, while expensive in the short term to build an MRF, is the best solution to keep waste costs under control in the future and extend the life of Kauai’s landfill.

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