When we think about Hawaii, we tend to picture towering volcanoes, crashing surf, and unspoiled sandy beaches. The reality is that Hawaii’s natural beauty is just one part of life on the Big Island.
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Like the rest of the United States, Hawaii has a cardboard problem, and a 29-year-old man is determined to do something about it.
Evan Lam grew up in Hawaii, and he has always been interested in conservation. A few years ago, he noticed that his mothers’ non-toxic nail polish business was purchasing cardboard packaging for their products from a company in California. The shipping prices cost a pretty penny, so Evan started looking for ways to reuse cardboard that was already on the island.
Evan soon learned that Americans throw out 67.4 million tons of paper and paperboard every single year. Only 68% of it gets recycled, the rest ends up in a landfill where it creates methane gas and contributes to climate change.
In Hawaii, they don’t have recycling facilities at all. Their cardboard waste is usually sent to Thailand for reprocessing.
“The fact that my cardboard probably comes to Hawaii from Canada and ends up being recycled in Taiwan and then can be shipped back to Los Angeles to deliver cotton from China and pears from Argentina is surreal,” said Evan. “Who is making these decisions and benefiting from them?”
Evan decided to start his own cardboard recycling program from the ground up. In 2020, he launched a mobile grassroots cardboard shredding organization called Circle Pack. The goal is to find new uses for every piece of cardboard that enters Hawaii. This program not only gives the island more self-reliance, but it also unites communities for an important cause.
Evan travels to partner organizations around the state to collect clean cardboard. He also holds community shredding days, where people can bring their own household cardboard and help shred it themselves.
Shredded cardboard can be used in a number of ways, including creating packing materials to replace Styrofoam peanuts. This “confetti” cardboard can also be used as animal bedding, multi-use thin mats, and nutrient-rich mulch for gardens.
Chantal Chung runs a large vermicomposting operation on the Big Island. She is the co-founder of Ma’ona Community Garden in South Kona, a large “food forest” that grows food for low income Native Hawaiian families while also giving them a space to grow their own crops for free. She needed more composting materials, so meeting Evan felt like a match made in heaven!
“And he [already] has the shredded paper waste,” Chantel said. “What’s lovely about cardboard being shredded is it increases the microbial and fungal infiltration, which decreases the time for it to break down.”
The two formed a partnership, and now they work together to establish a 24/7 cardboard drop-off area for their community and regular Saturday drop-off days. Chantal keeps about 1,000 pounds for Ma’ona, and the rest goes to local farmers.
Circlepack shredded 23,534 pounds of cardboard in just one year of operation, and they’re just getting started. Evan says Facebook and Instagram have been invaluable for getting the word out and encouraging community participation.
“I post about our community shred days in local Facebook groups and people just show up,” Evan said.
He hopes that Circlepack will help Hawaii, but he also hopes it becomes a model for creating sustainable change across the U.S.
“I would like to inspire and inform people how to act in their own communities,” he said. “I want people to replicate and use whatever parts of this program to fit their needs where they are. It doesn’t have to be complicated, big, or newsworthy to start doing the new, necessary things to benefit people and the places they live.”
This is an incredible idea, and it’s exactly the sort of forward-thinking we need in our world. Keep finding solutions to the tough problems, Evan!
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