Solving our growing solid-waste problem

My wife and I have been visiting Kaua‘i since the mid-1970s, and we have always enjoyed its natural beauty and semi-rural charm.

We have also witnessed its slow transformation in some parts of the island. Although we have had a property in Kapa‘a since about 2007, we finally decided to permanently move from the San Francisco Bay Area in California to Kaua‘i at the end of 2018. However, all of these years we have been intently observing the island’s approach to the management of its resources and the impact of solid waste on these valuable resources.

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to provide advice to more than 40 countries and hundreds of municipalities around the world on how to deal with their solid wastes, in particular municipal and health-care solid waste.

It has become very clear that in the majority of these locations around the world people look for solutions from their government (may it the president, the governor or the mayor). Most of the time the elected officials are not prepared to make technical decisions on their own and must rely on others.

Generally, the solutions proposed have been proven but involve substantial outlays of capital resources (such as to build a large incinerator or a modern landfill). However, it is also very clear that a major part of the solution to our waste-management problems ultimately rests on us (the consumers).

We are the ones who produce the waste. We are the ones who make the decisions on what to purchase and when. These decisions impact the type and quantity of waste generated in each community.

As such, we as part of the problem should be part of the solution. There are many approaches which are based on the community’s involvement in solving these problems and, at the same time, encourage the production of energy (through methane gas), of locally grown fruit and vegetables, and the establishment of small, private enterprises.

Most of these solutions take advantage of the “strong” sense of closely-knit communities very much like the “Native Hawaiian philosophy.”

In conclusion, there are various relatively-low-cost solutions which can support small- and medium-scale agricultural activities, produce energy and protect our valuable resources. However, these solutions require that we all be mindful about what and where we purchase a number of items. We need to develop and implement comprehensive public education programs (at all levels, from the household to schools) as well as coordination and continuous public participation.


Dr. Luis F. Diaz is a resident of Kapa‘a.

  1. james March 7, 2020 8:37 am Reply

    Don’t leave us hanging, doc. What are these “various relatively-low-cost” solutions specifically you are suggesting?

  2. Luis Diaz March 8, 2020 9:50 am Reply

    Hi James: I am glad that you read my short comment. It would be inappropriate for me to give specific solutions for a community without having additional information. However, as I said in my comments, we can use waste reduction programs (by knowing what to buy and when), biological processes (composting, anaerobic digestion), small-scale thermal options such as thermal gasification. But to select the programs one must have a thorough understanding of the community to be served and their willingness to cooperate.

  3. Jesse Hendrix March 9, 2020 5:13 am Reply

    Thank you for this and I would love to hear about these ideas and ways to get them started. Cheers.

  4. Lizzy March 9, 2020 5:21 am Reply

    Yes. I would like to know too I think many of us would because everyone wants to take care of the island and I’m sure we would all sacrifice to change the problem at hand with solid waste..

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