Key to coping with recycling changes is finding other ways to reduce, reuse unaccepted items

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today file photo David Rees-Thomas deposits his recyclables in the mixed bin on Nov. 13, 2018, at the Kealakehe recycle station.

With the county set to reduce its recycling capacity later this month, Big Island residents will have to reconsider how they handle their waste for the foreseeable future.

The county announced Monday that it will no longer accept paper and plastic products at its two-bin recycling facilities starting Oct. 16.


When the new rules take effect, only corrugated cardboard, paper shopping bags and non-HI-5 glass products will be accepted at the bins at county transfer stations. The county also will continue to redeem HI-5 beverage containers, and some transfer stations will accept metal cans such as those that contain soup.

Any other waste — including all plastic products — will have to be disposed of somewhere else.

“If you’re going to be conscientious about recycling, you’re going to have to implement some lifestyle changes,” said Dani Burger, board director for Big Island recycling advocacy group Recycle Hawaii.

Planning shopping trips in advance, reducing impulse purchases, tracking what goes into the trash can and sharing with other households can help reduce the amount of now-non-recyclable plastic waste a person or family can produce, Burger said, invoking the motto “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

“If you see something you think you need, wait a week before you buy it,” Burger said. “And if you don’t have to buy it after a week, then maybe you didn’t need it in the first place.”

Burger said residents should look for and set up reuse stations, wherein they can share items with others rather than throw items away. Recycle Hawaii is working to open a model reuse station inside of Hilo’s Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which can collect small, clean items for art and small craft projects.

Other places such as Hilo store Upcycle Hawaii can also find ways to adapt refuse into new products.

Greg Goodale, chief of the county Department of Environmental Management’s Solid Waste Division, said the county always encourages reusing plastic containers as much as possible, but acknowledged that, very quickly, “you find you have too many plastic containers.”

Goodale said backyard composting can be used to dispose of newspaper that can no longer be recycled, but that might not be an option for every household.

While the county encourages residents to still recycle what they can, residents must take care to ensure that non-recyclable items do not get mixed up with recyclable items. Such cross-contamination is part of the reason international recycling markets stopped accepting certain items.

China, the world’s leading purchaser of recyclable materials, enacted its “Green Fence” and “National Sword” policies in recent years that restrict the level of acceptable contamination in the recycled material that enters the country.

Goodale said much of the material China purchased in the past was cross-contaminated to the point of uselessness.

Furthermore, other items such as No. 1 and No. 2 plastics are so common that they are essentially worthless, and would lose money for any processor.

Roy Kadota, owner of Mr. K’s Recycle and Redemption Center in Hilo, said he is between a rock and a hard place, with his buyers in Los Angeles no longer offering worthwhile pay for many plastics.

“I don’t want to throw anything out,” Kadota said. “But if I bale No. 1 and No. 2 plastic, I’m just going to be losing money.”

Goodale said the county is currently working on finding new uses and ways to dispose of waste rather than seeking new deals with other potential buyers.

He said there is no indication the international recycling markets will improve anytime soon, although he added he does not think the state will scale back its HI-5 redemption program in the foreseeable future.


Lists of where certain items can be recycled on the island can be found at or

Email Michael Brestovansky at

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