What it is. How it works. How we can make it happen
By: Brittany Gurkin
Imagine you are walking down the beach with your family. What do you see? Hear? Or Smell?
Some would answer, “surf”, “Wind”, or “ocean air”. I however see something different. I see trash,
cigarette butts and recyclable products everywhere. I see rubbish. Now imagine all those
cigarette butts and rubbish being a playground or a park bench. “Impossible”, you say? Read on for
why you are wrong.
A company called “Terracycle” was founded in 2011. We all know we can recycle our HI-5’s
(aluminum and glass containers) for money, but what about the rest of our rubbish? Terracyle has made
it possible for us to recycle anything from juice boxes to makeup containers, shampoo bottles and
For Earth Day in 2011, Terracycle teamed up with Old Navy and Office Depot to collect used
rubber slippers. Right now you might be asking “and….? What does this have to do with us?” Well,
how about a new playground at Homesteads Park? In 2011 the first ever recycled playground was
opened in Denmark. It was made completely of recycled slippers. Pretty cool, huh?
In 2012, Brazil broke the world record for the largest trash sculpture (as stated on terracyle.org),
measuring in at 15.2 meters high, 8.32 meters wide and 4.25 meters deep. This was then broken
down and turned into park benches.
Also in 2012 a woman named Libby McQuiston, out of San Rafael, California formed a
brigade. Her brigade consisted of twelve people. They collected 230,000 cigarette butts in just three
months. A Brigade is either an individual or group of people who collect the recyclable products and
send them in to make money for non profit organizations (Terracycle.org).
I have personally received a recycled ashtray made completely of cigarette butts from the Santa
Fe Tobacco Company, who is a huge sponsor of this program. I have also received a picture frame
made from recycled iron. Can you imagine a tobacco company promoting Eco-friendly projects? I was
hard to convince. However, it is true and I think they deserve recognition for their efforts.
Right now, Hawaii is not included in the brigade states, and I would like to change that. The
reason we are not included is our airlines refuse to fly the waste to California. So why don’t we boat it
out? Some may argue cost. Well, in 2012 it was announced that the County of Kauai had excess in
$1,000,000 surplus at the end of the fiscal year (Garden Island newspaper).
The cost of shipping a container from Kauai to California is roughly $10,000. (Quoted by
Matson) How much is our land worth to us? How much could our community benefit from
participating? In my humble opinion, $10,000 a year to ship a container is cheaper than destroying our
‘aina. It will not only keep rubbish out of the Kekaha landfill, the products and proceeds from the
products made will come back to our community.
The amazing thing about Terracycle is they are not for profit. They take our rubbish and turn
it into useable products consumers want. They then turn around and give that money back to any non
profit of our choosing (Terracycle.org). How about our school district? I bet they could use some extra funds.
Maybe a playground or swing set at Nawiliwili beach park would be a nice addition. Of course
Parks and Recs of Kauai would deserve some funding for helping keep our ‘aina clean. If we
implemented this program island wide, it could easily create much needed jobs on the island.
We would need collection sites on all sides of the island. We would also need someone to pick
up the rubbish from the sites and get it to our base yard. At the base yard we would need people to go
through, separate and package the rubbish, then neatly pack it into our container.
Now the questions are raised whether the program should be ran by volunteers or with paid employees, and also where our base yard would be located. Having been through the Welfare to Work program, I know that there are federally funded “seed” programs to get people a job even if it’s temporary. We could employ eight or nine people part-time. The Welfare to Work program also requires volunteer hours for participants in some cases. That is just one option.
Now, where will our base yard be? The Parks and Recreation department has a yard just off the highway in Kapaa. Every time I’m over there, I notice a lot of free space on the property. Is the County of Kauai willing to donate a place at that yard for our container? I plan to take this before our city council and propose the project to be implemented island wide. I am sure that after my proposal we will have more answers.
I would like to include two interviews as evidence supporting this proposal. One is with a woman who is working with me on this project at the county level, and one is with a man who will reuse or recycle anything he can but just found out about Terracycle.
Interview with Robyn Witt
Q: How did you learn about Terracycle?
“I learned about Terracycle when the Santa Fe Tobacco Company sent me an ashtray made from recycled cigarette butts, which drove me to go to the website.”
Q: What does this mean to you?
“It makes a whole hell of a lot of sense. Because we live on an island, with finite space for rubbish, getting these items out of our landfill makes a lot of sense.”
Q: Are you willing to donate time for this?
“Yes, because it’s our ‘aina.”
Q: With Terracycle how do you see our ‘aina in 10 years? Without?
“There would be far fewer problems finding land for a landfill, because Kekaha would not fill up so fast. I see bus shelters with benches at each stop. I see our keiki’s playgrounds updated and perhaps even more playgrounds. I see cleaner beaches. I see people taking more pride in our ‘aina and how we preserve it. I see community involvement. I see us teaching our keiki how to care for our ‘aina. The community would benefit because Terracycle takes the profits and donates it back into our community. There would be no more “begging” for donations for our community sports teams, for example.”
Without – “The way it is now, but with another landfill because Kekaha will be full.”
Q: Do you see any negatives having this program implemented?
This is the second Interview with a community member I educated on January 25th 2013.
Q: After viewing the website, how do you feel about Terracycle?
“I think it’s a great idea” (with tears in his eyes) “I’m so happy it’s real.”
Q: What did recycling mean to you before today?
“Lessening man’s footprints and giving the earth a better chance for future generations.”
Q: Would you participate in this program if it was community wide?
“Yes I would participate and also take it to the level of educating people about it.”
Q: Would you donate time for this program?
“Absolutely, I’ve worked in recycling for many of years and believe in it.”
Q: Where do you see our ‘aina in 10 years with Terracycle in place? Without?
“With even 50% of households participating we would see a huge difference. If we get community wide participation, politicians will have no choice but to make it into a mandate.”
“Without it, the degradation of our planet is reaching critical levels. Action will be necessary because landfills will infringe on the environment. We’ve been headed this way for a long time, and we have to take action now if we hope our planet to sustain us much longer.”
Q: Do you see any negative impact on our community with Terracycle being implemented?
“Competition for jobs is the only thing I can see going wrong. Maybe the fuel costs/pollution of shipping. However the benefits far outweigh any possible negatives.”
In conclusion, Terracycle as a community wide project can and will work. People of our community are willing to participate and volunteer time to make this happen, which is exactly what we need in order to protect our ‘aina. There are no foreseeable negatives to this plan as of yet. Our entire island will be cleaner and our schools, as well as other nonprofit organizations, will benefit greatly. Now I can imagine that beautiful beach the way so many others do.