LIHUE — As communities across the mainland report disarray in recycling programs after China stopped accepting items in January, people on Kauai said they haven’t seen much of a change.
“There’s always some who do and some who don’t” recycle, said Jim Steele last week.
The 10-year Lihue resident was making a trip to the bins behind the old K-Mart in Lihue on Thursday, and pointed out recycling isn’t really that difficult of a task.
“It’s not like you’re carrying sand bags around, it’s pretty light,” Steele said. “Depending on your timing, there’s usually plenty of room. Today they just emptied” the bins.
Admitting that he might just have his “head in the sand,” Steele said he hasn’t noticed any changes in recycling since January, and he hasn’t changed his patterns, either.
“It’s pretty much the same as it’s been,” he said.
Wayne Stankevitz, a 15-year Lihue resident who also was recycling on Thursday, said he hasn’t noticed any changes either.
“As long as these green bins are out here, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “As long as I do my part, then it’s on them (the county) to do theirs.”
In January, China — the world’s leading recyclables buyer — stopped buying loads of waste paper, metals or plastic unless they’re 99.5 percent pure. That’s put a huge dent in the global market for recyclables.
The result is an overabundance of recyclables and has caused prices to dive from levels already depressed by other economic factors, including lower prices for oil, a key ingredient in plastics, according to The Associated Press.
In February, the effect rippled down to Kauai County, which stopped accepting plastic trays and clamshells.
“This is a major issue for all recyclers and municipalities throughout North America, and may have unknown and drastic impacts on programs in the U.S.,” said Lyle Tabata, acting county engineer in a news release about the decision.
On Kauai, recyclables are shipped out continuously by the contractor Garden Isle Disposal Inc. Cardboard, mixed paper, newspaper and plastics had traditionally been shipped to Chinese markets.
Recyclables are still being baled, marketed and shipped off-island but now to new places like Taiwan and Indonesia.
The AP recently reported that the three largest publicly traded residential waste-hauling companies in North America saw steep drops in recycling revenues in their second-quarter financial results. Those companies are Waste Management, Republic Services and Waste Connections.
Waste Connections — based in Houston — reported its average price for recyclables was down 43 percent from the previous year.
Allison Fraley, of the county’s solid waste division, said the county doesn’t track the types of materials going to landfill each month. However, the county does track monthly recycling activity.
The average total of plastic deposited in all eight Kauai Recycles drop bins has been 8.5 tons per month in Fiscal Year 2017-18, versus an average of 4.75 tons per month in FY 2016-17.
The Kekaha landfill accepts an average of 205 tons of material per day and the county’s recycling rate is still at about 42 percent.
That landfill is reaching capacity quickly. On Wednesday, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. accepted the final Environmental Impact Statement on a new landfill on 270 acres on Maalo Road and a 2.8-mile off-site access road and utility infrastructure to support the development.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at email@example.com.