Hawai‘i Island Grapples with Garbage

Feb 19, 2019

Credit Senior Master Sgt. Burke Baker / U.S. Air Force

Garbage disposal is a huge issue for our entire state. On Hawai’i Island there are two landfills, and one is running out of space. Recycling has become more complicated with China’s decision to stop accepting recycled materials. And that’s left many community members wondering what’s happening with their trash.

The Hilo Landfill is nearly full.  Hawaii County Department of Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski says it will stop taking garbage within a few months — the first step of closing it.

“There are two aspects to closing a landfill.  One is when you stop taking solid waste.   After that is done, you need to close it according to Department of Health rules to put an impermeable liner over the entire landfill.”  

Once the Hilo Landfill closes, all garbage will go to the Pu’uanahulu Landfill, a facility hidden near the Waikoloa Resorts. Kucharski says Pu’uanahulu Landfill can handle the County’s garbage for 50 to 150 years. How long it actually is viable depends partly on residents, and recycling. 

"The biggest item is green waste, at about 48 thousand tons a year that is no longer going into the landfill.”

Green waste is turned into mulch, free for residents to pick up. Recycling Coordinator George Hayducksko says other recycled material is reused on the island.   

“There are two items staying on island — glass, and that’s being used for drainage, landscaping, and a very small amount of newspaper for packaging in the floral industry.  The UMO, used motor oil, used to go to Maui for the sugarcane industry. Today, all of the UMO is being used on island, as energy.”

But the majority of the recycled material still goes off island. 

Most of the paper — cardboard, newspaper, the number 1 and number 2 plastic bottles, jugs, and jars, most of it’s going to Asia — Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea.”  

The County takes Electronic Waste once a month, and Household Hazardous Waste twice a year in Hilo and Kona.  The next disposals for hazardous waste are at Waimea Transfer Station on Saturday March second and Pahoa on Sunday March third.  The list of hazardous materials is at hawaiizerowaste.org

Hayducksko says with China no longer taking recycled materials, those Asian countries that do are already starting to get overwhelmed. And that leaves much of the island’s recycling with an uncertain future.