Big Island residents will no longer be able to recycle several types of plastic products at county recycling and transfer stations starting Dec 1.
The Hawaii County Department of Environmental Management announced that, because of changes to global recycling markets, the county no longer can accept No. 5 plastics, plastic grocery bags or any type of clamshell-shaped plastic products in the mixed recyclable bins at the county’s transfer stations.
“The markets are just not there for No. 5s,” said George Hayducsko, recycling coordinator for Environmental Management.
Hayducsko said changes to the global recycling ecosystem — primarily driven by China, which implemented significant restrictions on imported recycling materials in recent years — means certain plastic products simply no longer have buyers.
Unfortunately, Hayducsko said, this means No. 5 plastics — which include common microwave-safe food containers, yogurt containers, bottle caps, prescription bottles and disposable plasticware — must go in the trash for the time being.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Georjean Adams, board president for Big Island recycling advocacy group Recycle Hawaii. “I understand why they may be moving that way, but it’s already hard for people to figure out what is or isn’t recyclable, and it generates more trash.”
Adams said many No. 5 plastic products should have a certain degree of reusability, so residents should consider repurposing them as much as possible in order to reduce the burden on the island’s landfills.
Hayducsko also pointed out that because of the state’s ban on plastic bags, the moratorium on accepting plastic bags at recycling centers is not nearly as impactful as it would be otherwise.
In order to prevent “contaminating” the county’s recycling load, residents should make sure to not include No. 5 plastics or other unaccepted items in their recycling. Otherwise, processors must spend more time and money sorting out contaminants, or buyers of the material will reject it outright.
“We have to get rid of ‘wishful recycling,’” Hayducsko said, referring to a type of person who is eager to recycle but unwittingly includes improper materials and garbage along with the accepted materials.
The county will still accept No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, which are most commonly used for bottles, jars and jugs.
“If the public recycles correctly, we will save more resources in the long run,” Hayducsko said.
Hayducsko said he expects the county eventually will accept No. 5 plastics again as more businesses and facilities to process and repurpose the material open on the mainland and fill the void left by China’s departure from the market.
However, that change is “years away,” he said.
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