Kauai News

County Officials Look to Expand Kekaha Landfill

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By Amanda Kurth

Kaua‘i County is preparing for the impacts of climate change, and officials are getting the community involved in the development of plans to protect the island’s natural resources.

Entrance to Kekaha Landfill. (Amanda Kurth/Kaua‘i Now News)

Kaua‘i’s new strategy for facing global warming is the Climate Adaptation Plan, which is aimed at developing and building on the county’s existing 2018 General Plan. The CAP “will present a framework of actions to ensure people, places and natural and built systems are able to adapt to and mitigate climate change,” according to its mission statement.

The issue is more pressing now than ever.

China announced a “National Sword” policy in 2018, effectively shutting down the global market for rubbish from around the globe that would have otherwise been bound for treatment facilities in the nation. Those facilities sorted and compacted waste the rest of the world thought was recyclable, but an overwhelming number of materials received were contaminated, generating an unsatisfactory amount of solid waste.

That decision has not only reignited calls for better education surrounding the cleaning and sorting of personal recyclables before they hit a processing facility but has slowed down efforts from municipalities across the state altogether.


Kaua’i officials say that the process to make more room for the materials once sent halfway across the world is ongoing, as they adapt to a changing environment and listen continuously to concerned constituents. 

A big part of the solution will be letting residents and visitors know how dire the situation is becoming so they can be aware and help.

“It all starts with public education and outreach,” said Keola Aki, coordinator of Kaua‘i County’s recycling program.

Aki recently led Kaua’i News Now on a tour of the Kekaha Landfill to demonstrate how rubbish is dealt with on the Garden Isle.

The landfill, which sits alongside the Pacific Missile Range Facility, or PMRF, between Barking Sands beach and Kaumuali’i Highway, services the disposal of much of the county’s cumulative refuse.

Emissions stack at Kekaha Landfill burns off gas created by leachate collection system. (Amanda Kurth/Kaua‘i Now News)

Kaua‘i has narrowly avoided full capacity, but officials are always looking for a solution to accept waste from everyone, including residents, businesses and commercial activity.

When asked about the island’s 43% positive recycling rate far surpassing the national average of 35% and what it will take to reach more than 50% compliance, Aki and the county’s Solid Waste Programs coordinator Allison Fraley said it will take more financial investment from the island’s leadership. 

 “Increased waste diversion will require an investment in infrastructure and services so that we can begin accepting and processing material currently being landfilled,” Aki and Fraley said in a joint statement issued to Kauai Now. “Legislation should also be in place to restrict disposal of these recyclable materials and to require implementation and active management of commercial recycling programs.”

The need for more space is a pressing one.

The county is actively requesting information from permitted facilities to assess the feasibility of accepting additional material including food waste, sewage sludge, construction and demolition debris and other organics, they added. 


“With this input, we can work toward a cooperative solution to restrict the disposal of recyclable items from our waste disposal sites, and direct material to locations that process it back into a usable product, thereby creating a sustainable and circular economy,” they said in the statement.

Even without climate change, Kaua’i would be facing an extreme shortage of available landfill space, Aki and Fraley said. The effects of climate change will only exacerbate an already precarious situation. 

One way the county is looking to find more space is up.

“We are looking to permit a vertical expansion,” said Aki when pointing toward Phase Two of the Landfill expansion plans.

However, without the PMRF’s permission, the county cannot interfere with controlled airspace, making vertical expansion at the landfill difficult to develop.

The view from Kekaha Landfill’s phase two hill that overlooks new land use. (Amanda Kurth/Kaua‘i Now News)

Aki and Fraley also noted that they are aware of the Waste Reduction Model created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide greenhouse gas emissions reduction tips and energy savings.

“The county Office of Economic Development is a strong proponent to incorporating this approach to county processes and projects,” the pair said in their statement. “Our recently published Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan update contains a WARM modeling comparison of the existing waste diversion system versus increased waste diversion recommended in the plan.”

They noted that this increased diversion scenario demonstrates that there is less net energy use for materials recycled/composted than there is for materials sent directly to landfills. 

But, they added, The Solid Waste Office has not used WARM modeling actively with the exception of the ISWMP update.

And while the county uses its recent Waste Characterization Study to review the types of material going into the landfill, Aki and Fraley added that some materials such as food waste contribute to the production of greenhouse gasses.

“Keeping them out of the landfill will be very beneficial to the environment,” they said.

Click here to read the Kaua‘i Climate Adaptation Plan.

Click here to learn more about the county’s Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan.

Click here to learn more about Kaua‘i Community Recycling Services.

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