Keahole Center for Sustainability is embarking on a new initiative to donate water refills stations to every school in Hawaii.
This program was inspired by a young student, Nikki M., who went through an internship with KCS. Every year we mentor or host interns. Nikki loves the ocean and wanted to think up a community impact project related to reducing plastic waste because she was saddened to see it on dives or at local beaches. KCS Executive Director worked with Nikki to observe her community, the problem and possible reasons for the problem and solutions. Over the span of several months we narrowed the focus to reducing single use plastic water bottle usage on the Island of Hawaii. Nikki worked hard to raise awareness of the issue and to fundraise for the effort for which she is now a junior project manager.
Through her investigation of this issue she examined the some of the reasons for why so many purchase water in single us plastic bottles. Water in plastic bottles is easily available, it seems clean, its easy to transport, and the bottles are durable and light. Many people do not trust the water coming from their tap at home, their water might not taste good or they might not have the luxury of water in their homes, especially here in Hawaii where many residents have to purchase water to fill their tanks or fill their tanks with rain catchment. Visitors to the island may not know if the water is safe to drink from the tap or prefer not to or know where they might fill reusable bottles with fresh, clean water. If one were to spend a few hours observing outside of our large grocery stores on a busy weekend, you would see customer after customer (residents and visitors alike) leaving the stores with multiple cases of water in plastic bottles—equally hundreds of cases.
What is the solution and how to make a difference?
The first part of this program is to donate a filtered water refill station to every school on our island through Keahole Center for Sustainability.
There are a little over 30,000 students (not even counting staff) at 42 different schools on this island. Drinking fountains are obsolete in a world where a global pandemic like Covid-19 exists. Students and staff do not want to utilize a drinking fountain or bathroom faucet. If every student were to bring one plastic bottle of water daily for the 173 days of a typical school year, it would generate 5.19 million plastic water bottles going to our local landfill. This is where we could quickly make a huge local impact, not only for reducing plastic waste, but also for improving the health of residents. We also wanted the water to be fresh, clean and to taste good. So, Nikki proposed that we have filtered water stations instead of just a water bottle refill similar to a drinking fountain straight from the tap. Many of the schools here on the island have very old infrastructure and she want ed the water provided to be safe and for others to perceive it as safe as well. The plan is to supply every school and then look at other community needs.
Our island does not have any plastic recycling centers. Any small programs we do have available ship plastic off-island to mainland centers, where we know only a small percentage would actually be recycled anyway. So, most single us plastic beverage bottles end up going to our local landfill. The Island of Hawaii generated 283,000 tons of solid waste, in 2018 alone. Since 2019, no developed country is able to ship recyclable overseas. Placing a plastic bottle in a recycle bin is what industry professionals refer to as “wishful recycling”. It makes us feel better, but it is still waste. This problem starts with every single one of us. Consumer power is one of the greatest powers in society. If we use it, buy, or demand it, someone will make it and keep supplying it.
How Can You Help Us?
DONATE now and change your own behaviors! Recycling is not the answer. Changing behavior and making it easy for others to do so is the answer! Please help us in this effort by pledging to reduce plastic use in your own everyday activities and supporting this movement through funding for more stations. You may do so through our link or send donations to our mailing address, 73-4460 Queen Kaahumanu Highway Suite #125 Kailua-Kona, HI 96740. (Note that our financial name is still Friends of NELHA, which you see on your donation confirmation.)
We installed our first pilot water refill station, a FloWater unit, at Hawaii Preparatory Academy high school campus on March 18, 2022. It was easily installed in a matter of hours and is working out very well. Four more are to be installed in the next few weeks at the elementary and middle school. A FloWater refill station will be installed at Waimea Middle School in May. More stations have been purchased and are awaiting homes at other Hawaii schools. Please reach out if your school is in need and ready for a station!