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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 22, 2004

More trash being transformed

 •  Charts: Recycling on O'ahu

By Carrie Ching
Advertiser Staff Writer

A few Hawai'i companies are transforming waste such as newspapers, plastic bottles and old tires into household insulation, park benches and fuel.

The muck in the hands of Alika Gaspar, supervisor at Unitek Solvent Services, is known as TDF, or tire derived fuel. It's a material that comes from old tires that have been recycled.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Crushed glass processed by Grace Pacific gets reused as road-paving material.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Greg Kempson of Intech Inc. shows off an oil-change box, one of the products that the Palama company makes out of recycled paper.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

And as the city seeks to increase recycling — and divert more trash from the landfill — opportunities grow for local companies that can find marketable uses for the materials.

During the past six years, about one-third of the waste created on O'ahu — almost 500,000 tons a year — has been recycled, said Suzanne Jones, recycling coordinator for the city Department of Environmental Services. Another third of Hawai'i's trash is used as fuel at a hydrogen-power facility, and the last third goes to the landfill, Jones said.

"The idea is to decrease the amount of waste that goes to the landfill and increase the amount that is recycled," Jones said.

Now, as the city's islandwide curbside recycling project approaches, finding uses for all the material that will be collected is drawing greater interest.

Last week during the city's free "Tour de Trash," aimed at educating the public about Hawai'i's waste management, Greg Kempson sifted through a mound of green shredded paper. Kempson is co-owner of Intech, a paper recycling company in Iwilei.

The product, called hydromulch, is finely shredded recycled paper sold as landscaping material. Fifteen years ago, Intech began recycling old newspaper, cardboard and phone books into hydromulch, insulation and oil change boxes. The company is also working on a new recycled paper product: cat-box litter.

"Nobody was reusing paper here, everything was being exported," said Bernie Boltz, co-owner of Intech. "If you go to any recycling center you'll see mostly paper — it makes sense to reuse it." Intech is the only company in Hawai'i making products from recycled paper.

Products like hydromulch are the result of a cycle that begins with collection efforts by individuals, businesses and the city.

So far, much of the city and state efforts have focused on getting people to recycle items instead of throwing them away. Since 1990, the city has subsidized the collection and hauling of paper, plastic and glass that is left in bins at public schools around O'ahu. City agencies and some businesses are required by law to recycle newspaper, cardboard, office paper, aluminum, glass and plastics. And beginning Jan. 1, the "bottle bill" will allow a five-cent refund for empty bottles. The city does not get any revenue from recycling, Jones said.

What happens to your bottle or can after you toss it into the recycling bin?

The paper, cardboard, aluminum, plastic and glass items deposited in city bins around O'ahu are hauled and sorted by private contractors hired by the city. Honolulu Recovery Systems, Island Recycling Inc. and a few others also collect materials from hotels and businesses. Once the materials are crushed and packed into bales, they are sold to mills and companies that manufacture recycled products.

Learn more about recycling

• Find out online where to buy recycled products.

• Check out locally made recycled products at the Made in Hawai'i festival Aug. 20-22 at Blaisdell Center. Call 533-1292 for information.

• Visit local companies making recycled products and learn about O'ahu's waste on the city's free monthly "Tour de Trash."

Tours may be booked, but there is a waiting list. Info: 692-5410.

• To find out what you can recycle and where, visit www.opala.org.

Much of the glass collected by companies such as Honolulu Recovery Systems is sold to local construction companies like Grace Pacific, where crushed recycled glass is made into "glasphalt" used as a base layer in repaving roads. A small percentage of Hawai'i's plastic is sent to Maui, where Aloha Plastic Recycling Inc. makes plastic lumber and park benches such as those at the Honolulu Zoo. Old tires are shredded and sold as landscaping material by Unitek Solvent Services. AES Hawai'i, an energy company, also burns the tires as fuel to create electricity.

Although entrepreneurs have found a niche making recycled products at home, the majority of Hawai'i's recyclables — including office paper, plastic, and metals — is sold by the processing companies to mills overseas, mostly in Asia, said Suzie Say, general manager at Honolulu Recovery Systems.

At the mills, the paper, cans and bottles are boiled down, then resold to manufacturers who create recycled products. Office paper is recycled into toilet paper, cereal boxes and stuffing for toys. Crushed glass is reshaped into new bottles. Plastic becomes fleece, carpet and sneakers.

Jones said shipping Hawai'i's recyclables overseas does not detract from the success of the state's recycling program. "Whenever it is possible to close the loop on island it's a good thing, but it's not always possible. With some materials (like paper) we don't generate sufficient amounts to justify opening a mill," she said. "Recycling is an international process, and we're part of that."

But some believe manufacturing more recycled products at home could help Hawai'i by diversifying the economy and making the islands more self sufficient.

"We're shipping away something that has value, allowing them to do value-added work, then buying it back for more money," said Boltz. "They get all the jobs." Boltz also said expanding Hawai'i's economy to include "remanufacturing" makes the state's economy "more resilient, more able to withstand the ups and downs of tourism and military spending."

Ira Rohter, a professor of political science at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, agreed, but said there's a limit to how much remanufacturing Hawai'i can support. "Remanufacturing facilities ... may not be cost efficient for Hawai'i because it's a very small market," he said.

Processors also are unable to depend on guaranteed prices for recyclable materials because of fluctuations in world markets. When prices for recyclable materials drop significantly — as in 1998, when the Asian economy collapsed — the costs of processing and transportation for Hawai'i recyclables make it hardly worth the effort for profit-seeking companies, Jones said.

Recycling O'ahu's yard waste is one success story when it comes to completing the recycling loop at home. Most of the yard waste generated on O'ahu is recycled by Hawaiian Earth Products at Campbell Industrial Park and Kapa'a Quarry Road. The city helps by picking it up curbside, hauling it, and paying Hawaiian Earth Products $25 to $50 a ton to take it. Through a four-month process of grinding, sifting and heating, the company turns green waste into organic soil conditioners and compost sold across the state.

City laws require city agencies to buy recycled paper products. But companies like Grace Pacific and Hawaiian Earth Products have yet to secure contracts that ensure Hawai'i-made recycled products — like glasphalt and mulch — are used in city and state projects.

"I personally think that would be a good next step," Jones said.

Residents can help not only by recycling but also by buying recycled products made in Hawai'i and elsewhere. "I encourage people to factor in the recyclability of the products they choose and to ask themselves 'Is this package made with recycled content?'" Jones said. "I don't think people recognize how powerful they are as consumers."

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Correction: The H-Power plant at Campbell Industrial Park was incorrectly described in a previous version of this story.