Have you ever thought about where all of our trash goes?

If our trash is not reduced, reused, or recycled, it will end up in the landfill. Below is a graph called the Waste Composition Chart. It categorizes the different parts of the waste stream on Kauaʻi.


Did you know that on Kauai…?

• Food waste makes up about 14% of the garbage in our landfill.

• Yard waste makes up about 6% of the garbage.
Much of this waste could be composted and returned to our gardens as usable soil and nutrients.

• Nearly 34% of the waste is comprised of paper!
How many ways can you think of to reduce your consumption of paper or recycle it?

• Diapers make up about 2% of the waste stream.
Did you know that diapers take about 400 years to decompose? How could you help families reduce the number of diapers that end up in the landfill?

• Clothing and other textiles make up about 4%.

• Wood makes up about 4%.

• Metal makes up about 5%.
Where do you think all of the wood and metal comes from?

• About 4% of the landfill is comprised of glass.
What ways can you think of to decrease this number to less than 1%?

Kauai Recycling Facts & Stats

• The Recycling Rate for Kaua‘i is over 40%.

• From the period July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013 about 77,500 tons of trash went to the Kekaha landfill.
That is 212 tons per day, or more than 6 pounds per person per day.

• From the period July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013 about 55,500 tons of trash was kept out of (or diverted from) the landfill
 More than half of the refuse diverted from landfill was green waste and compostable food waste, at a whopping 32,636 tons.

• The HI5 beverage container recycling program recovers almost 70% of all beverage containers in the state of Hawai‘i. The reason the program is strong is because there is an economic incentive to recycle.

• Kaua‘i has a Plastic Bag Reduction Law that has been in effect since January 2011. The law prohibits stores from distributing plastic grocery bags at the checkout. The law was put into place to reduce litter and protect marine life and has been very successful.
Sea turtles cannot tell the difference between a plastic bag and their favorite food, jellyfish. Americans use over 1 billion shopping bags each year, recycling only about one percent of these [4]. What has Kauaʻi done to reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in the ocean?

Other Fun Recycling Facts

• The average American throws out nearly ½ of their food, resulting in about 12% of overall waste.[1] What if it was all composted?

• Aluminum cans are the most recycled and most recyclable beverage container in the world. An awesome 105,784 cans are recycled every minute nationwide. Americans earn about $1 billion a year recycling aluminum cans. Recycling aluminum creates 97% less water pollution than producing new metal from ore [3].

• Every three seconds a baby born, in that same time 140 aluminum cans are born [3].

• Hermit crabs are the original recyclers, changing out discarded snail shells several times within their lifetimes, then leaving the reused shells to be used once again. We should learn more from them, don’t you think?

• An island of plastic garbage the size of Texas is floating around in the Pacific Ocean.

• Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, an extra million tons of waste is generated each week [5]. Could you come up with more earth-friendly ways to wrap and give gifts?

• All children in the U.S. are required to ride in a child car seat, but these seats expire about 5 years after the manufacture date. Thrift stores won’t accept expired car seats for reuse. Can you think of another way to recycle all these child car seats?

• It has been estimated that recycling, reuse, and composting create six to ten times as many jobs as waste incineration and landfills [6]. What kind of jobs do you think we could create on Kauaʻi that involve recycling?

• Every year, Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons to circle the equator 300 times [7]. Could you figure out a way to use less plastic forks and cups and take-out containers?

monkseal_debrisMarine Debris

When trash doesn’t get recycled and doesn’t make it into the landfill, it can end up in the ocean. Streams, storm drains, and roads are all pathways that help garbage make its way to the sea. Fishing boats and other vessels are also responsible for much of this trash. Trash that makes its way to the ocean, whether it was disposed of intentionally or unintentionally, is called marine debris. Did you know that there is an island of plastic trash the size of Texas floating around in the Pacific Ocean? It’s so big that it even has a name. It is called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” You can learn more about it here.

Marine debris has a tremendously negative effect on the wildlife that lives in the sea, like our own Hawaiian Monk Seals. Many animals can become entangled in this mess of trash and drown. Birds eat this trash thinking that it is food, but they cannot digest it. Eventually they die of starvation because their bellies are full of trash.

Do you know who to call if you find an entangled marine mammal? Answer: Marine Mammal Stranding and Entanglement Hotline: 1-888-256-9840.


References for Stats and Facts

1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2009, November). Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States Detailed Tables and Figures for 2008. Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, from http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2008data.pdf
2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2010, May 12). Frequent Questions, from
3. Can Manufacturers Institute. (2006). “Recycling Fun Facts.” Environmental Issues.
Retrieved June 2010 from http://www.cancentral.com/funFacts.cfm
4. Clean Air Council. (2009, May). Why Plastic Bag Fees Work. http://www.cleanair.org/
5. California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. (2009, December 3). ‘Give Green’ by Decking the Halls with Less Waste This Year! from http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/PublicEd/Holidays/
6. Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. (2009, June 15). Despite Green Claims,
Incinerator Industry Just Blowing Smoke, from http://www.no-burn.org/article.php?id=732
7. Wills, A. (2010, June 21). Recycling To-Go Plastics, from http://earth911.com/news/2010/06/21/recycling-to-go-plastics/
8. Bushnell, K. Plastic Bags: What About Recycling Them? The Sierra Club, from
9. Anatomy of a Landfill Handout: http://www.wm.com/about/community/pdfs/Anatomy_of_a_Landfill.pdf