LIHUE — Chris Valin has been combing three sides of the island for nearly four years, operating a private, curbside recycling service.
He spends his days driving around Kauai, piling pitted plastics and sticky cans into his truck and then taking them off to one of the transfer centers that accepts commercial waste.
Many of his customers are residents who would like to save the time and hassle it takes to take care of it themselves, which entails driving to one of the eight Kauai Recycles drop bins around the island.
“There’s a cost, but it does save you time and is more convenient,” Valin said. “There used to be a few other guys doing it in the past.”
The cost varies, but is about $30 a month for residential customers.
Curbside recycling success depends on a highly concentrated residential customer base and a healthy dose of commercial customers. Kauai County piloted a curbside recycling program in 2011.
That year, the pilot served 1,300 residents in the Puhi and central Lihue neighborhoods and had a participation rate of 53 percent. On average, the pilot program collected 28 pounds of recyclables per household per month.
“Specially marked, 96-gallon refuse carts accepted all the recyclables that are collected in the Kauai Recycles drop bins,” said Deputy County Engineer Lyle Tabata. “Carts were serviced every other week.”
In total, 223 tons of materials were collected during the pilot, with mixed paper topping the list at 62 tons, 28 percent of the total. Cardboard followed with 27 percent of the total, 60 tons. Newspaper was third on the list at 35 tons with 15 percent of the total.
The majority of those surveyed after the pilot was finished said they recycled more as a result of curbside recycling. Seventy-three percent said they recycled more and 16 percent said they started recycling because of the curbside recycling pilot.
“A significant challenge of the pilot was the inability to conduct islandwide promotion and education, since the pilot served only a fraction of the population,” Tabata said.
The pilot was stopped after one year and wasn’t expanded because Kauai doesn’t have the right facility to sort the mixed stream of recyclables collected in curbside bins.
That facility is called a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), and there was a time when building it was on the books for Kauai.
It was part of the vision when the county built the Kauai Resource Center, which opened in 2002 and used $2.2 million in federal funding. Though designed for reuse and recycling, the county’s invitations for bids on operating the project failed and it was turned into a mixed-use building to “further its recycling programs.”
“The KRC has been a recycling center off and on for approximately a decade,” Tabata said.
It houses office space for two county HI5 recycling specialists, is a household battery recycling drop point, is a distribution point for backyard composting bins and provides storage for recycling supplies.
In April, a HI5 redemption center operated by Reynolds Recycling is set to open at the KRC.
Turning the MRF into the KRC would cost the county upwards of $8.3 million, based on current estimates.
In 2016, the county started on a MRF design and feasibility study that included an environmental assessment.
“If the KRC were to become a MRF, it would need to be retrofitted to raise the roof of the main building, add roofing between buildings, and other major modifications that are included in the $8.3 million estimate,” Tabata said.
After that, officials say the MRF would cost about $1 million annually to run, on top of costs to purchase recycling carts and collection trucks.
“There is no federal funding available for the MRF,” Tabata said. “Implementation of curbside recycling has been tabled due to costs.”
But, there will be some curbside recycling chatter coming up as county officials start on the update of the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan this year.
“It is anticipated that curbside recycling and curbside green waste collection — three-cart system — will be evaluated in depth during the planning process,” Tabata said.
The cost to residents will be part of the discussion, which may be a deterrent.
“People would like to not pay for it,” he said. “If the county wanted to support it, they’d have to put money into it. If you reach a critical mass point, enough people buying in, it could work.”
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.