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Recycling key to preserving landfill space

Recycling is important.

On an island, recycling is critical. It is essential. It should be a priority. The primary reason is simple. Recycling preserves landfill space. And on Kauai, landfill space is at a premium. The Kekaha Landfill is expected to be full by 2026. Planning continues on the county a proposed landfill between Ma‘alo Road and Kalepa Ridge. That, too, would eventually reach capacity.

And recycling just makes sense.

That’s what we’re glad the county contracted with Cascadia Consulting Group to analyze what is in the landfill. No big surprises that it found waste from construction sites, 23 percent, and paper products, 18 percent, are the most common kinds of waste at the Kekaha Landfill. People tend to toss those things out and there is little monetary value for recycling them.

The county must continue to do its best to encourage and promote recycling to keep such materials out of the waste stream. The county must continue to look at every option that will give residents and our million visitors each year a convenient way to recycle aluminum, plastic, glass and paper products.

The question we ask is this: We understand most people prefer to toss recyclables with little value. It’s easy and convenient. But are a lot of recyclable materials ending up in the landfill? We’re talking bottles, cans, plastics, that are HI-5, worth 5 cents if you turn them in.

Strictly going by the numbers of the report, there are.

For 2016, overall Kauai countywide waste composition numbers indicate a lot of recyclables ended up in the landfill.

The report said that an estimated 375 tons of PETE containers, the type of clear plastic for water and soda, those with HI-5 value, were part of the waste stream. The report said that 122 tons of HDPE containers, high density plastic, also with HI-5 value, were in the landfill.

That’s nearly 500 tons of just plastic containers actually worth a nickel each. Of the plastics without Hi-5 designation, about 9,000 tons went to the landfill, the report said.

Then, there’s glass.

Of glass bottles and containers with HI-5 value, 761 tons were tossed out, while 1,083 tons of glass bottles and containers, non-HI-5, went to the landfill.

So, we’re up to 1,261 tons of recyclable plastic bottles and glass that are actually worth money if you turn them in.

And then, we have aluminum cans. Aluminum is one of the recyclables that can effectively be used again, unlike glass, which is piling up in warehouses around the country. The report found that 228 tons of aluminum cans with HI-5 value went to the Kekaha landfill, while 78 tons of aluminum cans without HI-5 value were buried at the landfill.

Now, we’re at nearly 1,500 tons of glass, aluminum and plastics, with HI-5 value, were discarded as trash.

That’s not good. It stands to reason, based on those numbers, we have room for improvement.

It’s disappointing, really, to learn that on an island as small as Kauai, with limited land space, would dispose of items headed for the landfill rather than recycle them to be used again. It makes no sense we would throw out so much of what could be recycled

We might note, too, that 8,635 tons of food wound up in the landfill in 2016, the report found, while “other organics,” like leaves and grass, sewage sludge, textiles, branches and stumps and prunings and trimmings (15,107 tons) were found in the waste stream.

We can and must do better. Is the recycling process fairly simple and effective? We think so. Could be it better? Yes. Others will argue recycling is not worth it, and that recycling actually wastes more energy than it saves. But we must stay the courage on recycling and even though it can be a messy process, it will pay off today and in the future.

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