EPA official tours Kona reuse site

Hawaii is, literally, in the middle of an environmental problem, a top Environmental Protection Agency official said Thursday.

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Hawaii is, literally, in the middle of an environmental problem, a top Environmental Protection Agency official said Thursday.

“We’ve got a global problem and Hawaii is in the middle of it, geographically,” said Jared Blumenfeld, Region 9 administrator for the EPA, during a visit to the Kealakehe Transfer Station and the Kona Reuse Store there.

He referred to the Pacific garbage patch, sometimes called a Pacific gyre, a collection of plastics and other garbage items that have washed to sea. Much of the garbage will eventually wash up on shore, including on Hawaii’s shore, something Blumenfeld witnessed firsthand Wednesday on a trip to South Point. Within an hour, he and volunteers picked up 127 pounds of garbage on the beach, he said.

“Hawaii is an important place to focus on in helping communities do what they think makes sense,” Blumenfeld said.

Everything that was in the Kona Reuse Store, one of six across the island, was destined for the landfill if someone hadn’t taken the time to offer it for reuse, Blumenfeld said. The reuse stores, run by Recycle Hawaii, allow people to drop off usable goods of all sorts — from appliances to books to clothes and toys — and for others to buy those items for a nominal fee. During Thursday’s visit, Blumenfeld noted the quality of the items, including a full-length men’s wet suit for about $10 and dress shirts with the original tags still attached.

“I’m amazed at how clean and well organized it is,” Blumenfeld said, adding he has visited many such reuse sites over the years. “It feels like you’re in a nice store.”

Part of his visit to the Big Island this week was to check on projects the EPA has helped to fund, including the reuse store, which the county built with about $30,000 in federal funds.

Travis Olson, Recycle Hawaii project manager, said the reuse store program diverted 300 tons of items from the landfill, by providing opportunities for people to reuse them. By locating the stores at the transfer and recycling stations, the county is offering people “one-stop convenience,” he said.

Recycle Hawaii recently switched to paperless record-keeping, too, reducing the amount of waste it generates by going digital, Olson said. And they just started offering construction materials for reuse, as well as assist with some demolition projects to get materials that can be used for smaller home improvement projects, he said.

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Another area Hawaii Island residents could look to improve their reuse and reduction efforts, Blumenfeld said, is with food waste. About 40 percent of all food purchased is thrown away, with 96 percent of that ending up in a landfill, he said. He met Wednesday with a coffee farmer who would like to see some kind of curbside program set up to help farmers get more compost or compostable materials, which would serve the dual purpose of reducing waste and helping the agriculture industry.

“It’s worth making those investments,” Blumenfeld said.

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