Dirty recycling dooms Hawaii Island program

HILO — Garbage in, garbage out.

Hawaii County’s recycling program fell apart not because of a lack of markets, but because of dirty garbage dumped into the two-bin system, the Hawaii County Council learned earlier this week.

During a hearing that stretched into late evening, the council Committee on Agriculture, Water, Energy and Environmental Management was told that plastic and paper recycling is still going on through private, small-scale programs where clean paper and plastic are separated at the source.

Business Services Hawaii, the island’s sole recycling contractor, told the county last month it couldn’t accept recycling from the mixed recycling program because it’s not clean enough to be accepted by markets in China and Southeast Asia, where the materials are usually sent.

The two-bin program, which started in 2005, resulted in as much as 25% contamination with non-recyclable materials, Solid Waste Division Chief Greg Goodale said.

“It’s easy for consumers, bad for the end market. We wanted to try to make it easy as possible for folks to deal with,” Goodale said. “There was a lot of things going into those bins that shouldn’t have got in those bins.”

Business Services takes No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, cans, glass, cardboard, newsprint, office paper and paper bags from its commercial customers such as businesses and multi-family residences. The recycling company didn’t participate in the council discussion and hasn’t returned phone messages left by West Hawaii Today.

Hawaii County, although not accepting plastic at its 16 waste transfer stations, continues to accept glass and cardboard and paper bags in separate bins at its recycling areas there, as well as cans at its scrap-metal areas. The Hi-5 recycling program has not changed.

Testifier Kristine Kubat, an environmental activist, urged the county to go back to the separate bins that were used prior to 2005.

“What we’re really experiencing here isn’t a failure of the markets. It’s a failure of the mixed-recycling system,” Kubat said. “When you have that one bin and you just tell people to throw everything in there, it just turns into something that’s barely one grade above trash and nobody wants it. But there are markets for plastic. There are going to be markets for plastic. We just have to separate.”

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