Follow that trash
While bottles and paper take global trips, recycled green waste stays close to home
STORY SUMMARY » | READ THE FULL STORY
Much of the recyclable trash collected by the city heads off for journeys to the mainland or Asia and returns as newspaper, wrapping paper, molded packaging, cardboard, aluminum cans and brown paper bags.
But green waste accounts for most of the collections -- double the weight of all the bottles, papers, cans and cardboard in those big bins.
It is the kind of recyclable the city likes: It stays on island, is processed and comes back as mulch or compost.
The city is poised to extend curbside recycling across the island after trials in Hawaii Kai and Mililani.
"Every material we collect has a different story, and it's a very interesting story," said Suzanne Jones, city recycling coordinator.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL /
A Honolulu City and County curbside recycling truck dumps 3.5 to four tons of recyclable material at RRR Recycling Services Hawaii in Campbell Industrial Park. Materials such as cardboard, newspaper, plastic and aluminum are sorted and compacted into bales to be shipped to Newport, Calif.
BY THE NUMBERS
Honolulu residents approved a City Charter amendment in November 2006 mandating curbside recycling. Here are results of the city's recent pilot project in Hawaii Kai and Mililani, which will soon be extended to other areas of the island.
» 96 percent of residents participated in the voluntary curbside recycling program.
» 83 percent of residents said they also do other recycling, such as HI-5.
» 54 percent of possible recyclables in the household waste stream were collected.
» 7 percent of residents considered sorting their recyclables a hassle.
» 3 percent rate of contamination in the mixed recyclables collected curbside
» 2 percent number of households requesting extra gray bins for garbage
» No contamination in yard waste collected curbside
FULL STORY »
That plastic water bottle tossed in the recycling bin could become new carpeting. The beer bottle next to it might be ground into gravel for construction. And yesterday's newspaper could see new life as an egg carton.
With the city poised to extend curbside recycling across the island, some residents are wondering what happens to the stuff they put out on the curb -- from yard clippings to empty milk jugs.
"Every material we collect has a different story, and it's a very interesting story," said Suzanne Jones, the recycling coordinator for the city, which will offer curbside recycling to 37 percent of Oahu households by the end of the year.
After a successful trial run in Hawaii Kai and Mililani, curbside recycling will spread to these neighborhoods in November: Kuliouou to Manoa; Kapahulu; Kailua to Lanikai; and the North Shore. New areas will be added every six months until the entire island is covered by May 2010.
Many of the products that are collected have long journeys ahead of them, across thousands of miles of ocean. But the weightiest component of the household recycling stream, yard waste, stays on the island. Hawaiian Earth Products processes it and gives it back to residents as mulch, available free, or as compost sold under the name Menehune MAGIC.
"We have tonnage-wise probably twice the amount of green waste as all the bottles, cans, newspaper and cardboard," Jones said. "We can make the greatest impact in reducing our island's waste through separating out our green waste."
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL /
Recyclable material is sorted by workers at RRR Recycling Services Hawaii. Supervisor Harry Kupihea dumps out a trash bag that was thrown into a curbside container. Kupihea said that the workers find approximately 1 percent of contaminants, or nonrecyclable material, in the loads. Diapers are a common item found.
The end products are in demand for local lawns and gardens, creating a "closed-loop," sustainable system. Mulch helps hold moisture for trees, shrubs and plants, and keeps weeds from coming up, while compost enriches local soils.
Another heavy component of the local waste stream -- glass -- also has a good chance of getting reused on the island. About 62 percent of the glass bottles redeemed in the HI-5 program during the first nine months of this fiscal year stayed in Hawaii, according to the state Office of Solid Waste Management. The glass is crushed for gravel, trench bedding, backfill and "glasphalt" in road base.
Without major manufacturing or a big market of its own, however, Hawaii has no local use for the rest of the glass and other mixed recyclables -- aluminum, plastics, corrugated cardboard and newspaper. So the island's recycling companies keep an eye on fluctuating world prices and ship their goods across the Pacific in either direction, wherever they can get the best deal.
Aluminum is snapped up by buyers on the mainland. Mills in Asia are hungry for the state's discarded cardboard and paper, to make more cardboard and paper. And high-value plastics head to either the mainland or Asia, to be remade into textiles, plastic lumber and CD covers, among other things.
"The aluminum goes back into aluminum cans, and it's a component of steel, too," said Greg Apa, senior vice president of Honolulu Recovery Systems, which handles the school/community recycling bins. "Most of the plastic bottles goes into other rigid plastic, like toys, or in carpet. It doesn't go back to drink bottles."
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL /
RRR Recycling Services Hawaii's Bobby Henriques holds a handful of pulverized glass. The glass is pulverized and used for road construction or landscaping material.
Plastics are identified by a number embossed on the bottom of containers, ranging from 1 to 7. The lower the number, the higher the value of the plastic. The city collects just plastic No. 1 and 2, including bottles and milk jugs.
The islands' isolation makes it too costly to recycle lower-value plastics and paper, including magazines, junk mail, tissue boxes, plastic tubs and polystyrene foam. They are not worth the cost of shipping. Instead, those materials go into the regular rubbish to feed HPOWER, the garbage-to-energy plant that now generates 7 percent of Oahu's electricity.
"The lower-value papers and plastics are combustible, and they will provide far greater benefit to the island in local energy production than in packing and shipping them to distant markets," Jones said. With energy costs soaring, alternate sources are becoming more important, she noted.
Shipping costs could also affect the future of the island's used glass. No one locally is willing to pay for crushed glass, so recycling companies make it available free as a replacement for aggregate in construction or agriculture. But demand is uneven.
"It totally fluctuates," said Dominic Henriques, owner of RRR Recycling Services Hawaii, which has the curbside recycling contract with the city. "If one of the companies has a project and they call us, we'll run it for them. But if no one's calling, we'll send it to the mainland. There's no value for it because of the shipping costs."
The state Department of Health is considering raising the handling fee on glass containers to help pay for shipping to encourage recyclers to send the glass to California to be melted down and made into new products, rather than simply being crushed and reused here.
"The policy is still being discussed," said Karl Motoyama, coordinator of the state Office of Solid Waste Management. "We're trying to encourage more re-manufacturing. This is a higher end use; you end up with a new product from the recycled material."
In any case, Hawaii's recycling companies are looking forward to big infusions of recyclables later this year and on through May 2010.
"We're all excited," Henriques said. "We can do it, but we all need advance notification because there's going to be a lot of heavy infrastructure that has to be put in."
RECYCLING GAINS GROUND
Curbside recycling will spread from Mililani and Hawaii Kai to the rest of the island, as follows:
» November: Kuliouou to Manoa, Kapahulu; Kailua, Lanikai; Mokuleia to Sunset Beach
» May: Waipio Gentry to Halawa; Wahiawa, Whitmore, Waipio Estates, Laulani Valley; Kaneohe, Waimanalo
» November 2009: Foster Village to Makiki; Kahuku to Kahaluu
» May 2010: Makakilo to Waikele; Waipahu; Ewa Beach to West Loch; Honokai Hale to Makua
Source: City and County of Honolulu
WHAT GOES WHERE
» Green bins: Green waste includes grass, tree and hedge trimmings
» Blue bins: Mixed recyclables include newspaper, corrugated cardboard, glass bottles and jars, aluminum cans and plastic bottles, coded No. 1 and No. 2. Note: Households do not generate enough office paper to make curbside collection worthwhile. Office paper should be dropped in school/community recycling bins, in boxes or brown paper bags. No staples, clips, envelopes, sticky labels or glossy paper.
» Gray bins: Garbage, including plastic bags, Styrofoam, junk mail, magazines, cereal boxes and other chipboard, food cans, and plastic containers other than those coded No. 1 or No. 2. Note: Metal food cans are automatically removed at HPOWER to be recycled. Lower-value papers and plastics are not worth the cost of shipping to distant markets. The city says they benefit the island more by being burned at HPOWER to produce electricity.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
» Newspapers: Sent to mills, largely in Asia, to be processed into more newspaper, wrapping paper and molded packaging
» Corrugated cardboard: Sent to Asia to be pulped and remade into more cardboard and brown paper bags
» Yard waste: Stays on the island and is turned into mulch and compost for use in local landscaping
» Aluminum cans: Sent to the mainland to be melted into new aluminum cans and other products, including steel
» Glass bottles: Some stays on the island and is crushed for use in construction as back fill or road base. The rest heads to the West Coast to be melted into new glass products.
» Plastics: Sent to the mainland or Asia to be re-manufactured into carpeting, plastic lumber, toys, fiberfill, detergent bottles
Sources: City and County of Honolulu, Honolulu Recovery Systems, RRR Recycling Services Hawaii