Plastic #1 (PET) and Plastic #2 (HDPE) plastic bottles and jars are accepted for recycling throughout the island at eight locations through the Kaua'i Recycles Program Residential Drop Bin Program. Plastic #1: Clear plastic. It is also a container type that is included under the Hawaii Deposit Beverage Container (HI5) Program. Beverages such as water, sodas, juices, sports drinks, and even beer bottled in #1 plastic are redeemable under the HI5 Program. Plastic #2: Opaque plastic; commonly detergent, shampoo bottles and milk jugs. No containers 5 gallons or over are accepted, and no containers that previously held oil, gas, or other flammable material.
Plastic containers that are not bottles and jars even if they are #1 and #2 plastics are not recyclable on Kauai. See the Plastic container recycling flyer. Recyclable #1 and #2 bottles and jars are known as rigid plastics which are different from other non-recyclable #1 and #2 plastic containers called thermoformed plastic. Some examples of thermoformed plastic are plastic clamshells that hold eggs and produce, or tubs of butter and yogurt. Thermoformed plastic requires special additives to create. These additives change the properties of the plastic including their melting point. The melting point is critical for the recycling process and if the recycler cannot guarantee the melting point or other properties of their material they will usually have to dispose of the entire load.
Plastics #3-#7 are not recyclable on Kaua'i because they have low market value and we do not have a materials recovery facility (MRF) on island to manage this material at this time. Black plastic is NOT accepted because the color degrades the recycling mix in the same way thermoformed plastics do.
Due to market restrictions in China that occurred in 2018, we are only accepting plastic #1 and #2 bottles and jars. We had to exclude clamshells, trays and tub type containers from the program. Our recyclables are managed by our contractor who owns the material once they accept it. They sort, prepare, ship and market the commodities. The County is provided with monthly reports on the destination of the recyclables. Most of Kauai's plastic is marketed to Oakland, California. From there, the end destination is Asian markets including Pralumex, Malaysia and Newport, Jakarta. These destinations fluctuate depending on market conditions and demand so new destinations may be found in the future. There are locations that are trying to mobilize to take advantage of the tonnages made available since the closure of the Chinese marketplace. It is expected to take several years for companies to build-out capacity to process the materials that China received in the past. The State of Hawaii does not have any centralized processors for recyclables so all materials must be shipped out of the State.
Plastic checkout bags are not used by Kauai retailers due to our Plastic Bag Reduction Law, however, plastic film bags in the form of produce bags and food packaging is still in use. Film plastic is not recyclable on Kauai or in the State of Hawaii. Film plastics are problematic in recycling streams because they are often contaminated, and also get tangled in screens and other equipment in materials recovery facilities. We encourage people to source reduce and reuse film plastics as much as possible.
The Garden Island Newspaper accepts clean used plastic newspaper sleeves for reuse at their headquarters in Lihue.
Polystyrene (Styrofoam) Reuse
Polystyrene, or Styrofoam, is not accepted for recycling on Kauai. However, you can reuse packing peanuts by placing them in a clean plastic bag and bringing them to the Kauai Resource Center in Lihue, where the County hosts a "drop and swap" for reuse of foam peanuts and bubble wrap. (Please note that due to the Covid-19 pandemic the "drop and swap" program is currently unavailable.) The UPS Store in Lihue accepts foam peanuts as well as foam blocks. Foam blocks are cut up and reused for packing material. Call the UPS store at 632-2347 for more information and availability.
What you can do
Since plastic is problematic to the environment, we encourage source reduction for this material. If possible, please make efforts to purchase soda in aluminum cans, which requires the least amount of resources to recycle. Purchase food products and juice in a glass container instead of plastic.