LIHUE — While China put the kibosh on accepting plastic waste from other countries, Kauai Recycles drop bins have nearly doubled in the past fiscal year.
Allison Fraley of the Kauai County Recycling Office said the average total of plastic deposited in all eight Kauai Recycles drop bins has been 8.5 tons per month this fiscal year, which is higher than last fiscal year at 4.75 tons per month.
“There is significantly more plastic collected through the HI5 Deposit Beverage Container (DBC) program,” Fraley said,
HI5 DBC recycling averages 32 tons per month.
Program changes in February included the county’s cessation of accepting plastic trays and clamshells.
It came just after the December 2017 China decision to stop accepting plastic waste from around the globe which has sent the world searching for a place to send millions of pounds of plastic.
A recent study from the University of Georgia found that by the year 2030, more than 122 million tons of plastic that would have found its way to Chinese shores will now have to find a new home.
The study was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.
Using United Nations data, it found that China has been the king of plastic importation for years, accounting for about 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste since 1992.
Scientists say China has taken more than 116 million tons of plastic since 1992, the equivalent weight of more than 300 Empire State Buildings and wealthy countries like the United States, Germany, and Japan are looking at other ways to deal with plastic waste.
“This is a wake-up call. Historically, we’ve been depending on China to take in this recycled waste and now they’re saying no,” said study author Amy Brooks, a doctoral student in engineering at the University of Georgia.
Other countries are starting to follow suit, Brooks says, with Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia becoming overburdened with plastic waste and looking to enforce bans of their own.
She says the likely resting place for this wayward plastic is in landfills. Fraley said Kauai County doesn’t track the material types going into the Kauai landfill each month, but does track recycling activity.
Recyclables on Kauai are shipped out continuously by the contractor Garden Isle Disposal, Inc. (GID) and they keep materials moving to keep space in their warehouse, according to County of Kauai.
Traditionally, cardboard, mixed paper, newspaper and plastics have been shipped to China, but the county has been keeping abreast of the China issue through trade magazines and industry webinars and has been working with GID on alternate shipping destinations.
Indonesia and Taiwan are some of the new locations where GID is sending recyclables.
Scientists say that while it’s important to find a resting place for the plastic in circulation, it’s even more paramount to slow the production of the material itself or to find new ways to recycle plastic.
“We need to look at new uses for these materials,” said Marjorie Griek of the National Recycling Coalition. “How do you get manufacturers to design a product that is more easily recyclable?”
Associated Press contributed to this report.