By Kristine Kubat
As the largest secular holiday in the world, Earth Day has much to offer anyone who cares about the future of our planet. Earth Day celebrations are usually a mixed bag of things that matter and things that don’t. . . with many of the things that don’t matter downright harmful to the environment. When I first started working at Recycle Hawaii, I made up my mind that it didn’t matter much to sit behind a table and shout at kids who were being herded along a maze of tables while loud music played in the background. So I took a position by the trash cans and have been happy ever since.
This year marks my third managing a zero waste operation for the University of Hawaii’s Earth Day celebration. The event was back up at the UH-Hilo campus, against my advice to keep it at Hawaii Community College where the scale and centrality of the layout gives a village feel and makes it actually possible to commune with the thousands of kiddies who attend. It also makes it possible to capture nearly everything people want to throw away, whereas at UH-Hilo, where activities are spread out over the Library Lanai and the Student Center Plaza (with all kinds of other traffic in between) handling event discards is a nightmare.
Capturing the vast majority of the 2013 Earth Day discards at HCC made the resulting 98% diversion achievement a true thrill. This year’s 99.9621% rate for the UH-Hilo event was fun, but it comes with an important qualifier. . . that’s what we diverted from what we collected.
Having caught a herd of sidelined Earth Day celebrants about to toss several gallons of unwanted food and plastic dinnerware into trash cans, I can say for sure that the same thing happened all over campus that day. Still, I remained determined.
“Excuse me, but we are managing Earth Day as a zero waste event and we are not using the trash cans today,” I announced to one of the adults tending this particular herd. She was aware of this and did get the memo about having the kids pack a zero waste lunch but she couldn’t manage that and now they were here with their unappetizing bentos and the kids were just about done and couldn’t we just pretend like it didn’t matter anyway?
“No, sorry. It’s Earth Day.”
There was a moment of discomfort. . . a fleeting moment. Turns out she cared about the environment as much as I did and was aware of her disadvantage having already produced a significant amount of carbon pollution transporting her herd. She acquiesced and a short while later marched her students to the sort station where they discarded a shameful amount of food into a bag for compostables and the containers into another. It was satisfying for us both and it mattered.
Many mahalos to Claudia Wilcox who organized this year’s Earth Day event, made sure there were sort stations and provided outstanding student volunteers. Mahalo also to Tom DeWitt who co-organized, and Norman Arancon at the UH-Hilo Agriculture Department who took the compostables. As always, we have Roy Kadota to thank for taking the #6 plastic. Without this kind of support, even the most well-meaning folk are nothing more than a trash making hoard. . . even on Earth Day.