A guide to recycling in Maui.
As many people are aware these days, the world’s recycling programs were recently thrown for a loop. Until January of this year, China was taking a majority of the plastic recyclables from the states and other parts of the world, and then due to a number of factors including poor recycling habits by Americans resulting in dirty, contaminated recyclables, China stopped accepting everything. This resulted in a nationwide standstill of recyclables. We as consumers probably didn’t notice, as most of the recycling companies continued to pick up as usual, but then they were faced with either storing the plastics for an undetermined amount of time or sending them to the landfill. Then some other countries started expanding their infrastructure to accept what China no longer does, but they’ve learned from China’s mistakes and have become much pickier. The’ve set a far stricter limit for percentage by weight of acceptable contamination which I believe to be .5% from an article I read although Maui Disposal couldn’t confirm that number. So for those who are lucky enough to have curbside recycling, if it rains between the time you put your bin out and when it is picked up, that rainwater could be the difference between your plastics being accepted or sent to landfill. Another interesting aspect of recycling is that we rarely think of it as a business, but it absolutely is and what shapes and sizes of plastic are accepted depend solely on what they can sell and that is always subject to change.
So what does that mean for you?
Remember that just because it has the little recycle arrows doesn’t mean its actually being recycled right now. No one knows what the recycling climate will look like a few months or a year from now, but currently for plastics, only bottles with “necks” are accepted. This could include anything from water bottles to dish soap and detergent to jugs of oil as long as they are rinsed well and dried. The lids aren’t not recyclable, however Maui Disposal asks that they are removed from bottles because when the compress the plastics, if there are lids still on they’ll shoot off like little bottle rockets all across the room.
One thing China is still accepting is corrugated cardboard, no flat cardboard like cereal boxes or really heavy duty cardboard like that is used to package furniture. They are, however, requiring a certified inspector to inspect all corrugated cardboard before it can be shipped off and the closest inspector is on Oahu.
Paper is much like plastic in that it can only be recycled a few times before its quality is so degraded it is unusable, so only white office paper and newspapers are currently accepted. White paper is the most desirable to recycling companies so they don't have to use as much bleach. A unique challenge Maui faces is that since we are a small island in the middle of the ocean with a relatively disregarded recycling program, its hard for Maui Disposal to amass enough white paper before it yellows in the weather to be able to ship it off as such and when it’s yellowed, its worth less.
There are a few pallet size masses of magazines sitting at Maui Disposal which they cant find a buyer for, so that will have to go to the landfill along with all magazines and waxed or shiny paper.
The worlds of glass and metal recycling are much less gloomy as both are widely accepted as long as they are clean, and can be recycled over and over for eternity with no compromise in quality.
I think we can all agree that trying to avoid single use plastics and containers is the real answer, but its not always practical and its rarely easy. So having all of the information is important to help us make educated decisions on the full impacts of the products that we’re buying.