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The Economics of Recycling in Hawaii

Paper, metal, plant clippings, plastic and many more items are recycled in Hawaii and each has a dollar value

(page 3 of 3)

Prices Paid for Recyclables

Here are the current market rates paid per ton of recycled materials. Selling these materials in the open market helps the counties make curbside pickup of recyclables and green waste more economical, and helps collectors make a few dollars.


$140 to $190


$100 to $150
(but shipping costs
exceed market value)


(No. 1 plastic)
$360 to $670


$115 to $160


$1,060 to $1,700


(No. 2 plastic)
$160 to $345

Source: Honolulu County Recycling Office



Oahu's Waste

Here is what happens to Oahu’s municipal solid waste, excluding construction and demolition (in tons).

  2007 2011 2013 forecast
Amount Oahu diverts from landfill for recycling, reuse and compost: 453,372 480,061 510,000
Amount burned at H-Power: 585,569 594,793 727,000
Ash and residue from H-Power that goes to landfill: 189,351 163,618  145,000
Total municipal solid waste that ends up in the landfill
(including H-Power ash/residue): 
496,042 330,539 190,000

Source: Honolulu County Department of Environmental Services



Misplaced Waste

On Oahu, 31,000 tons of food that can be recycled using the green-colored, green-waste bins, are mistakenly placed into the gray trash bins and taken to the landfill each year. That misplaced waste:


Percentage of recyclable materials on Oahu that were mistakenly placed in gray bins last year. That’s 17,158 tons of recyclables sent to the landfill.


Estimated extra income each year for Honolulu County if it can increase residents’ curbside recycling rate from the current rate of 52 percent to 75 percent.

Almost 100%

Virtually all of the ferrous and non-ferrous metals are captured and separated using either magnet or eddy technology before trash is burned at the H-Power plant, according to the Honolulu Recycling Office. Much of that metal is then recycled.



No One Wants a Landfill

The only landfill on Kauai is in Kekaha, on the southwestern tip of the island.

The landfill was supposed to reach capacity in 2005 and be closed, but the deadline has been extended twice. Most recently, a proposed height extension of 85 feet would add five years to its life, according to Wil Chee – Planning Inc., which was hired by Kauai County to provide an environmental assessment in support of the extension.

Kauai County is searching for a new site at which to bury or burn waste, but NIMBY politics are making a site selection difficult, as it does everywhere in Hawaii and in most places around the world.

To combat this challenge, local governments in Hawaii are pursuing several options. On Oahu, H-Power is expanding its capacity, which should help reduce the solid waste dumped at Waimanalo Gulch. According to Covanta, the operations and management company at H-Power, the expansion will increase total waste processing capacity from 2,160 tons per day to 3,060. This will help increase electricity generation potential at the plant from 57 megawatts to 90. H-Power’s output helps Oahu offset the need to import nearly a million barrels of oil per year.

Included in the H-Power expansion is the ability to process larger items, like much of the construction and demolition debris that has been a challenge for solid waste management to this point.

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

Old to new | New to old
Aug 9, 2012 10:39 am
 Posted by  brvhi

As I work in the recycling industry, I find this article important for those who do not understand the economics of recycling and believe that we in the industry make "tons" of money.

A successful recycling infrastructure, even if costs exceed that of landfilling, is critical to the future of our great state of Hawaii.

Aug 9, 2012 10:50 am
 Posted by  brvhi

Most local recyclables are shipped off-island. A recyclable materials processing infrastructure would reduce costs and increase our independence. For example, processing plants and smelters should be established in Hawaii. The materials developed, such as aluminum structural materials, and composites, can be used in construction, increasing jobs and contribute to the local economy. For our sake, we must consider this as an option. As well, we must not fall into the NIMBY syndrome.

Dec 14, 2012 08:25 am
 Posted by  princessbm

i love this cite

This has been flagged
Aug 14, 2013 04:35 am
 Posted by  Latoya.Smith

Recycling is good! Over the years I’ve ordered dozens of catalogs that were printed with less than expected quality, some being downright scrappy. A couple months ago my company in Hobe Sound FL, printed some catalogs with PCA Delta and they were great. I’ve been printing with them ever since. They show care for the environment by using soy based inks, plus recycled papers are available upon request. If you need items printed on recycled paper go to

This has been flagged
Jan 1, 2014 12:46 pm
 Posted by  johnjesselaRue

Made in hawaii products suffer from expensive glass containers shipped in to the islands. Create a glass factory here to use recycled glass for Hawaii products. A beautiful solar power glass factory Hawaii state funded to create jobs and reduce greatly the carbon footprint of the islands. New manufacturing in food and beer can instantly be more profitable. Adissionally unseparated glass (low grade) is used in Oregon to make a sand-like road material. We always can use more sand that we lose.

This has been flagged
Jan 1, 2014 12:52 pm
 Posted by  johnjesselaRue

Make a glass factory a priority in Hawaii. Please, use here this valuable recycled resource.

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