Dealing with Waste on the Hawaiian Islands

What happens on the island stays on the island. Although this phrase now is most known for its reference to mischievous acts, in Hawaii, locals know that it means that whatever material goods arrive to the islands—cars, furniture, books—tend to stay on the islands. It’s not so easy to move heavy or big items across the ocean, and this trend is more than apparent in the myriad of excellent thrift shops located throughout the islands. So, when you live on an island, you must constantly consider where things go when they get left behind and where you might be able to find a discarded treasure.

Old, rusted car in junkyard on Maui, Hawaii.
Material goods tend to stay on the islands and be recycled until they’re no longer useable. But what happens to them then? Photo © iofoto/123rf.

Hawaiian garbage is actually shipped to the Mainland since there is no place to leave it here. This past year, the state ran into a quandary when the shipping of 20,000 tons of garbage became delayed and began to send a foul odor throughout O‘ahu. Some environmental activists argue that the best way to reduce our waste—our environmental imprint—is not only to recycle but, more importantly, to reuse. Thus, on Hawaii, this reusing principle is even more salient given the difficulties of getting rid of waste coupled with the available resources, like used goods left behind by people leaving Hawaii.

On the Big Island, Bill Jackson has created a creative and economical way to reuse. At his All Kine Bike Shop (144 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, 808/345-3417, Mon.-Fri. 10am-5pm, Sat. 9am-5pm) on the Hilo bayfront, he buys used bikes and salvages some from dumps and then rebuilds them into “new” custom-made bikes. Jackson explains that bikes are the perfect item to recycle “because they are simple.” The parts are interchangeable since they all have frames and wheels and are easy to repair.

The shop’s storage area is overflowing with over 200 bikes and thousands of parts in crates waiting to be stripped down and remade into wholly new machines. “If someone needs something, I probably have it,” Jackson happily says as a man walks in and asks if he carries parts for BMX bikes. His clientele are mainly “people who love to ride and people who have to ride.” With gas prices rising, Jackson foresees that his sales will go up as people try to save money on gas by biking. “Biking itself isn’t unique to Hawaii,” Jackson explains, “but Hawaii by bike is something unique.”

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