Reduce, Reuse, Recy - Wait

Hawaiʻi County is no longer accepting plastic- here’s a look into what that means for Hilo and the future of the Big Island

Associate Editor Clara Scheidle

Believe me when I say, we, too, have been very frustrated by the latest turn of events on the local level.” - Sanne Berrig

According to Berrig the annual increase to the county’s landfill will be approximately 3,100 tons, based on the county’s data collection for fiscal year 2018, during which 224,196 tons of rubbish was accumulated.

The Business Services Hawaiʻi (BSH)- the county’s recycling contractor- rescinded their acceptance of plastic products for recycling in mid-October of this year. County of Hawaiʻi Recycling Specialist Sanne Berrig told Ke Kalahea that this was not anticipated news.

“Believe me when I say, we, too, have been very frustrated by the latest turn of events on the local level,” she states in an email.

This is just a small part of a global phenomenon. China stopped importing recyclables from other countries and Berrig says that this caused international recyclers to turn to “smaller Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia to ship recyclables.”

This, however, proved to be impossible to keep up without the proper recycling infrastructure, not to mention the amount of trash that tends to mix in with the recyclable material. Soon after, these countries also stopped accepting recycling.

These countries used to have more relaxed environmental laws and policies, but Barrig says that their governments have had enough and are instead telling Western countries to be accountable for their own trash. This is occurring on a global scale.

What, then, does it mean for the Big Island? Hawaiʻi’s waste is, as Berrig states, “a teeny, tiny blip on the screen,” for the brokers selling the recycling products.

Corrugated cardboard and glass are still able to be collected. Berrig also says that BSH in Keaʻau is accepting “plastics #1 and #2,” which consist of jugs, bottles, jars, and a few other materials- as long as they are clean and they have been called in ahead of time. What isn’t accepted will head to the West Hawaiʻi Sanitary Landfill, which is expected to increase by 1 to 1.5 percent by weight. Berrig clarifies that the annual increase to the county’s landfill will be approximately 3,100 tons, based on the county’s data collection for fiscal year 2018, during which 224,196 tons of rubbish was accumulated. According to Berrig, this increase accounts for “plastic, newspaper, mixed paper, metal cans that was previously recycled – in plastic - namely #1 and #2 plastic in the shape of bottles, jugs, and jars – not all the other types.”

Nic Vanderzyl, a UH Hilo alumni who graduated in May 2019 with a degree in marine science, says that the issue of our landfills reaching capacity is the first thing that came to his mind when the decision was instated. Vanderzyl hopes that this will open the public’s eyes to “how severe our dependence on plastics is and help drive our community to further shift away from single-use plastics.”

Vanderzyl comments that some studies have found that some of the plastic debris generated locally remains on the island as well as floats to the other islands. “It’s hard to say if this ban will increase overall plastic on our beaches,” he states. “It will be interesting to see if there is an increase in locally sourced plastic debris through time!”

Hawaiʻi County will soon be putting out a Request for Information (RFI) towards the Big Island’s recyclers. This is an information gathering period, says Berrig, where they will look into different options for providing recycling services, as well as input from local vendors on how to implement new ideas.

After this, the next step is to use the information gathered from the RFI to create a Request For Proposal (RFP). A proposal will then generate new bids and the creation of a new contract for recycling collection, ideally for a better one than we are currently in.

Additionally, the County of Hawaiʻi’s Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan- which Berrig refers to as “the Plan” in her email- is currently being updated, as is required from the State Department of Health every 10 years. The draft of the Plan will be made public in early December, and from then on there is a 60-day comment period. This leads to two public hearings to be held in January in Hilo and Kona, where testimonies can be given in person or submitted in writing.

With the public eye trained on this recycling dilemma, Berrig hopes that it will draw attention to the other two of the three R’s: reducing and reusing.

Inforgraph: What Can You Do to Help? 5 Ways to Minimize Your Plastic Consumption - With Tips from Nic Vanderzyl. Look for alternatives: there are non-plastic alternatives to items that might not seem obvious. "I use toothpaste that comes in a pellet form in a glass jar," says Vanderzyl. "The company even sends me refills in a package made of cellulose that dissolves in my sink!" Soap, Shampoo, Conditioner: A lot of plastic gets put towards making the bottles for soap, shampoo, and conditioner. A way to minimize your plastic intake would be to purchase those items in bar form - you could even make your own! Reuse: Reusing plastic food containers once they're empty doesn't only reduce your plastic waste, it can be put to use! Reuse them as tupperware or to organize your desk and/or drawers. Buy in Bulk: "I try to buy in bulk as much as I can by using glass mason jars and going to stores such as Island Naturals and Safeway which have huge bulk sections." - Nic Vanderzyl. Reduce: Use less plastic. Avoid buying things with too much packaging, or anything that is single-use. "I purchased a single blade safety razor - now I only have to change out the razor blade and not throw away the entire razor." - Nic Vanderzyl.