VOICES: Recyclables are recycled on Kaua‘i

On Monday, May 17, a letter in the newspaper asked: “Where does the recycling go?”

Concerns about whether recyclables get recycled are common throughout the nation, especially in recent years since programs have changed due to China’s restrictions on accepting recycled products.

Due to reporting requirements of county contracts described below, and sound landfill-management practices, the public can be assured that recyclables are recycled on Kaua‘i and are not dumped at Kekaha Landfill.

For a rural community, Kaua‘i does a great job of diverting waste from the landfill. Approximately 42% of the material generated by residents and businesses on Kaua‘i is managed through various recycling programs.

Information on these programs can be found at kauai.gov/recycling. Recycling programs include green waste, scrap metals, appliances, eWaste, tires, batteries, propane tanks, motor oil, etc.

In addition, the county has three primary programs to manage “traditional” recyclables: cans, bottles, cardboard and paper. The Kaua‘i Recycles Drop Bin program for residents and visitors has eight locations throughout Kaua‘i to accept: plastic #1 and #2 bottles and jars; glass bottles and jars; aluminum and steel cans including food cans, clean foil and baking pans; and mixed paper and corrugated cardboard.

The county funds a commercial recycling contract with Garden Isle Disposal to provide businesses free recycling opportunities for the same recyclables listed above, at GID’s facility in Lihu‘e.

The commercial recycling contract also supports the processing of state HI5 deposit beverage containers. Under the state HI5 program, certified redemption centers operate at five locations throughout the island and pay back five-cent deposits on glass, plastic, aluminum and bi-metal containers marked with the HI5 logo.

The three traditional programs discussed above generate about 8,000 tons of material per year. A large amount of this tonnage (about 3,000 tons per year) is commercially-generated cardboard, which is restricted from landfill by county ordinance. Another large portion of recyclables (about 2,000 tons per year) is captured through the HI5 program, including plastic, glass, aluminum and bi-metal beverage containers. The HI5 program is successful because it provides an economic incentive to recycle.

One main recycling facility on Kaua‘i processes these materials, owned by GID and located above Nawiliwili Harbor, which is convenient for shipping out the recycled commodities they generate. GID has an indoor warehouse with a vertical downstroke baler with a pit feed conveyor. They have roll-off containers, dumpsters, trucks, skid steers, forklifts and a loading dock, which are also necessary to manage and market materials. The vertical downstroke baler creates large cubes of condensed, recycled materials, which must be shipped with like materials separately.

As a contract requirement, the disposition of recycled products is reported to the county monthly, including tons of materials sold, tons of materials stockpiled at GID’s facility, locations accepting materials and shipping manifests.

Currently, Kaua‘i’s recyclables are marketed to Asian regions (excluding China) with the exception of HI5 glass, which is sent to California for remanufacturing into new bottles, and non-HI5 glass, which stays on Kaua‘i and is used in construction, landscaping, art and other projects. The exact end destination for each commodity changes depending on market prices and who accepts material at the time.

It should be noted that only #1 and #2 plastic bottles and jars are accepted in county programs. Many other types of plastics are used for food service and packaging that are not included in the drop bins and are not marketable. Options for increasing plastic recycling are in the works as the private industry strives to meet consumer demands. The county is working on expanding and promoting recycling options where possible.

Recycling has been in the local news a lot lately. We are in the public-review period of the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan Update. A copy of the draft plan is available for public review and comment through July 19. The ISWMP contains information on current programs and recommendations for program improvements. The public is encouraged to review and provide input on this critical topic of solid-waste management. Please log on to kauai.gov/iswmp to review the plan and provide input. If you have questions about recycling, call our recycling line at (808) 241-4841.


Allison Fraley is the solid-waste-programs coordinator in the Department of Public Works for the County of Kaua‘i.

  1. RGLadder37 June 2, 2021 2:23 am Reply

    Using old waste bags made from paper. Or using old waste bottle container for water. Again. This may seem like a good idea. But when you look at it, Kauai is a poor house. Buy new ones. Forget about the problems of landfill. Buying new ones makes it all more like Kauai is rich. Act that way and you’ll get there.

  2. james June 2, 2021 6:40 am Reply

    Because we don’t have curbside recycling, many recyclable items are placed in garbage cans, such as plastics, glass and paper/cardboard. What happens to these items when they are mixed in with the regular trash? Don’t they just end up in the landfill? Is there any process for sorting regular trash? We really need curbside recycling like any normal 1st world county, especially since we live on a small Island.

    1. RGLadder37 June 3, 2021 9:45 pm Reply

      If they get mixed up, it gets dumped with the other trash and on the landfill. The problem is how many people are conscious of separating trash when they get thrown away? Very little. We need more incentives. Like money.

      1. james June 5, 2021 6:13 am Reply

        Separate curbside bins will reduce the amount of recyclable materials thrown in with the regular garbage.

  3. CommonSenseish June 3, 2021 11:01 am Reply

    NOT ALL RECYCLES ARE RECYCLED HERE… Upon trying to drop off some recyclables a while back, we noticed one of the bins was full. We asked one of the women working if there was any other bins, she said that since they don’t have the ability to recycle that specific plastic, they just throw that away anyways, and we were suggested to go up to the dump and drop it. We asked why they even “pretend” to collect that plastic tho since they end up just throwing it away anyways and she didn’t have an answer. COK needs to get with the times. All our tax money is going into pockets.

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