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Recycle Hawaiʻi Receives $1.5M EPA Grant to Empower Youth Advocacy in Kaʻū

Press Release submitted by Tanya Yamanaka, Recycle Hawai’i

In Partnership with Kaʻū Global Learning Lab, Recycle Hawaiʻi Receives $1.5M EPA Grant to Empower Youth Advocacy in Kaʻū

A new partnership between Recycle Hawaiʻi (RH) and the Kaʻū Global Learning Lab (KGLL) has been awarded a $1.5 Million EPA Recycling Education and Outreach grant over three years to launch the Hawaiʻi Youth Clean Stream Campaign and Waste-to-Wealth Initiative. Led by local Kaʻū youth, this initiative aims to embed environmental justice principles into programs designed to reduce landfill waste on Hawaiʻi Island, while empowering youth-led community action.

A kick-off event featuring the students currently enrolled in the program is planned for Saturday, April 27, 2024 from 3-5pm at The Plantation House in Pahala. Community members will have an opportunity to discuss the program with grant partners, elected leaders, and participants. The three-year project will focus on fostering the development of leadership skills among Kaʻū youth through community-based education campaigns that promote composting, raise awareness about plastic pollution, and inform the public about ongoing recycling opportunities created by the students in the program.

Three cohorts of 20 Student Resource Ambassadors (SRAs) will be established over the course of three years. Each cohort of SRAs will embark on a year-long journey immersed in educational programming focused on waste reduction themes. Year one will concentrate on composting, year two on marine debris and plastic pollution, and year three on clean stream recycling and waste-to-wealth circularity. These themes will culminate in the launching of local educational campaigns aimed at increasing awareness and participation in community-based recycling and composting programs.

A sub-cohort of SRAs will also participate in the Creative Content Summer Fellowship, where they will undergo intensive training to develop marketing skills and further the program’s goals during the summer break. This fellowship will equip participants with professional-level skills in data analysis, audio-visual production, conference organization and program impact tracking. The SRAs also receive high school credits and paid stipends by participating in the program.

During the first year of the program, SRAs will travel to Cooperstown, NY, Nov. 19-24, 2024, for the National Recycling Congress to engage with leaders in the sustainability field and present the educational campaigns they’ve developed. In spring of 2025, the SRAs will travel to San Francisco to attend the Zero Waste Youth Convergence to network with other youth in the National Zero Waste Program and develop the skills to host their own Zero Waste Youth Convergences in Kaʻū in 2026 & 2027. In the spring of 2026, the student cohort from Kaʻū High School will host a local Zero Waste Youth Convergence conference for local Hawaii youth. SRAs will also prepare for hosting the National Zero Waste Youth Convergence in 2027, featuring speakers and youth participants from across the country.

“We aim to empower the youth of Hawaiʻi Island to become environmental stewards and champions of waste reduction,” said Justin Canelas, the programʻs director for Recycle Hawaii. “By engaging students in hands-on learning experiences and providing them with the tools and resources to effect change in their communities, we are fostering a generation of local leaders committed to environmental sustainability.”

The Hawaiʻi Youth Clean Stream Campaign and Waste-to-Wealth Initiative’s environmental justice component features the addition of community coordinators proficient in Marshallese and Hawaiian languages facilitating outreach and engagement in Kaʻū and on the Big Island. Hiring for these positions will begin in the Summer of 2024.

“This initiative represents a significant step forward in promoting environmental justice and empowering youth voices in our community,” said Aaron “Āina” Akamu, KGLL Academy Principal. “By incorporating indigenous knowledge and reaching out to underserved populations, we are ensuring that all members of our community have the opportunity to participate in and benefit from these environmental initiatives.”

The $1.5M EPA grant will support the implementation of the Hawaiʻi Youth Clean Stream Campaign and Waste-to-Wealth Initiative over the next three years, with the first cohort of SRAs set to begin their journey on June 1st, 2024. Applications are still being accepted for SRAs; the deadline to enroll is July 31, 2024. Please reach out to Jennifer Makuakane, KGLL Academy Program Coordinator, via email at jennifer.makuakane@k12.hi.us or via telephone at 808-313-4141 if you are interested in enrolling your Ka’u High School Student in the upcoming fall program.

For more information about the Hawaiʻi Youth Clean Stream Campaign and Waste-to-Wealth Initiative, please contact Justin Canelas – the EPA REO Program Director at Recycle Hawaii –via email: program@recyclehawaii.org.


About Recycle Hawaiʻi (RH): Recycle Hawaiʻi is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting waste reduction, recycling, and environmental sustainability in Hawaiʻi.

About Kaʻū Global Learning Lab (KGLL): The Kaʻū Global Learning Lab is an educational institution committed to fostering global citizenship, environmental stewardship, and community empowerment.

Justin Canelas
EPA REO Program Director
Recycle Hawaii

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