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VOICES: Kaua‘i needs curbside recycling now

Kaua‘i has a solid waste crisis. According to county officials, the current landfill will fill up before a new one is ready.

More than half of the stuff used or consumed by Kaua‘i residents and 30,000 daily visitors ends up in the Kekaha Landfill—about 260 tons per day.

Where will all this stuff go if the new landfill isn’t ready?

Even if the new landfill were ready, landfilling as the main way of dealing with Kaua‘i’s waste is not a good long-term solution.

Landfilling perpetuates a linear process: extract natural resources, manufacture product, use, throw away or burn. This linear process, together with a growing world population and increasing per person consumption, is gobbling up more natural resources than our planet can sustainably provide (e.g.lumber, minerals, metals, fish, fowl and meat).

The unprecedented extraction of raw materials destroys forests, habitats, plant and animal species, water resources, human settlements and farmlands — basically all the things that make Planet Earth liveable.

Instead of relying on landfilling, we need to become a 5-R Community that Reduces, Re-uses, Repairs, Recycles and Rots (Composts).

We reduce our waste when we shop with reusable bags or use a thermo flask instead of buying bottled water. We re-use, when we donate unwanted clothes or household goods to thrift stores —and shop there, too! We extend the useful life of our shoes or bags when we repair them at places like the shoe repair shop.

We recycle when we redeem our HI-5 containers or drop off our recyclables at the county’s recycling drop centers. We compost when we participate in the county’s free compost bin program, take our yard waste to county transfer stations, or use the services of Compost Kaua‘i.

The county needs to provide the infrastructure and policies that encourage 5-R activities, such as regional composting operations to keep green waste, food waste, and sewage sludge out of the landfill (currently 28 percent of landfill inputs).

We need alternative ways to handle construction and demolition materials (presently 24 percent of landfill inputs.) A Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and curbside pickup of recyclable would provide the infrastructure to reduce the recyclables going into the landfill (currently 36 percent of landfill inputs).

Curbside recycling works because it’s so easy. Residents will put their dry recyclables (paper, cardboard, glass, metals, and No. 1 and No. 2 plastics) into a blue cart, and every two weeks, county crews will pick up and haul the recyclables to a MRF instead of the landfill. There, the recyclables will be cleaned, sorted and baled for sale.

At the MRF, trash becomes commodity, and the process becomes circular. In place of raw materials, the bales of recycled aluminum cans, paper, cardboard, and plastic will be used to make new products, such as new aluminum cans, recycled paper or plastic products.

If the county obtains available federal infrastructure monies to build the MRF, county consultants estimated that the cost of curbside recycling will be $5 per household per month (2022 dollars). This is far cheaper than the $50-plus per household per month it presently costs the county to provide curbside trash pickup and landfill disposal.

The county presently subsidizes trash pickup, heavily. It could easily shift part of the trash subsidy to fully cover recycling costs and charge a little more for trash service to avoid any increase in real property taxes.

There is no time to waste. We ask the mayor and the Kaua‘i County Council to make building a MRF and providing curbside pickup of recyclables a top priority immediately, as it should have been 20 years ago. Done back then, that action would have likely prevented today’s crisis.


JoAnn Yukimura served as County of Kaua‘i mayor or council member for 28 years. When mayor, she created the position of Solid Waste Coordinator, which eventually led to the development of the Solid Waste Division in Public Works. Her administration started the first recycling and composting projects, fast-tracked the first lined landfill in the state after Hurricane ‘Iniki, and developed Kaua‘i County’s first integrated solid waste management plan. Readers can receive a footnoted electronic copy of this guest opinion and/or make comments by emailing
Source: The Garden Island

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