Recycling groups, projects, cropping up as county reduces recycling

  • Marty Tackitt, left, and Hau’oli Yockeman, with his children Elma, Ayvah and Ano’i, participate in Puna Precious Plastic’s first collection event Oct. 26 at Shipman Park. (Photo by Jordy Jones/special to West Hawaii Today)

HILO — If you want something done right, as the saying goes, do it yourself.

A rapidly growing Puna group is aiming for just that. Learning that the county on Oct. 16 stopped collecting recyclable non-HI5 plastics, a bunch of people got together to do it themselves.

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Created Oct. 18, the Facebook group Puna Precious Plastic has grown to more than 1,000 members and has already held its first collection event. It’s one of a number of waste-reduction and recycling initiatives popping up around the island as people and groups take matters into their own hands.

County Recycling Specialist Sanne Berrig says the county isn’t endorsing any particular initiative, but she welcomes the public interest.

“We, of course, support any waste reduction,” Berrig said Wednesday. “I do work with the community. It is my belief we’re all in this together.”

The Department of Environmental Management said the lack of an overseas market for mixed recycling meant it had to stop accepting plastic, office paper and newspapers at county transfer stations. Metal cans are accepted at scrap metal bins. And HI-5 cans and glass and plastic bottles continue to be accepted at HI-5 redemption centers.

Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski is scheduled to explain the changes at a 1:30 p.m. Tuesday meeting of the Council Committee on Agriculture, Water, Energy and Environmental Management. The meeting will be in Hilo council chambers, but people can also testify at satellite locations at the West Hawaii Civic Center, old Kohala courthouse, Waimea and Pahoa council offices and the state office building in Naalehu.

Precious Plastic is a worldwide movement that began in 2013 in the Netherlands. The goal is to share knowledge and tools on how best to recycle plastics into usable materials.

The local effort is the brainchild of David Marquis, a former carpenter who became disabled after an automobile accident.

“I’ve been kind of sitting on the idea for a while. It requires money and since I’m disabled I don’t have any,” Marquis said. “There’s a framework out there developed by people in the Netherlands. It’s open-source and you’re going to put your time and energy and give it for free because it’s good for humanity.”

A collection event Saturday brought in “maybe a thousand pounds,” Marquis said. The goal is to clean and sort it, then shred it and melt it to form plastic bricks and lumber for construction.

A lot has to happen before that. Marquis has started a business, planned a kick-starter fundraiser page and contacted county officials for assistance. Donations and grants will be required to get the necessary machinery to really get the project off the ground, he said.

The goal is to put the plastic that reaches the island to good use.

“If we bury it in the landfill, it’s going to be there hundreds of years,” he said. “Thousands of years.”

At the other end of the spectrum are groups trying to limit the amount of plastic being used to begin with.

Zero Waste Big Island, which also has a Facebook group, has started a West Hawaii chapter that will hold its first meeting 5-6:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Gateway Center at Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA).

The East Hawaii chapter, which has been around since January, holds its next meeting 5:30-7 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Mokupapapa Discovery Center.

“Zero Waste Big Island was started as a support group trying to help people reduce the waste people produce,” said member Monica Stone. “It’s a resource for people to learn to live a different lifestyle that is lower waste. … Given the new restrictions on recycling, a lot of people are waking up to the fact that we can’t recycle our way out of our problem.”

Dani Burger, director and volunteer engagement manager for Recycle Hawaii, has been working with Habitat for Humanity Hawaii Island’s Hilo ReStore to put both reuse and reduction into practice. There are a number of projects in the works.

“It’s really exciting to be at the front of this movement,” Burger said. “There’s a swell of sustainability when people open their eyes and look at the possibilities.”

An audit of what’s coming into and going out of the store is one step, said ReStore Manager Bridget Paulson.

“We as a business are trying to teach ourselves as individuals and as a business to go zero waste. Dani’s teaching us how to go zero waste so we can become an information station,” said Paulson. “If we are zero waste as a building and a business … and if we don’t have places to put this stuff it just opens our eyes to the bigger problem on the whole island.”

Then, there’s the educational component. Areas have been set aside at the ReStore warehouse for recycling information and how-tos, for collection of particular items for art projects such as bottle caps and CDs and for workshops on making artwork out of recycled items.

The first workshop — a Resource Force event geared to children — is scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 9 at the store.

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Burger is also coordinating an adult workshop, called “Kitchen Skills to Save the World,” at 5 p.m. Nov. 19 at Hilo Public Library.

Disclosure: Nancy Cook Lauer’s husband is an employee of Habitat for Humanity Hawaii Island Hilo ReStore.

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