Photo by Andy Stenz
As I write this, I can hear the happy humming and clanging of the house next door’s deconstruction. I hear what sounds like cheery workers listening to Hawaiian music, carefully disassembling the house piece by piece to salvage any big or little piece of material to redistribute to the community. The sounds ring an even more joyful note for me, knowing that this house is being deconstructed by Re-use Hawai‘i, a local nonprofit that sends a skilled deconstruction team when it’s time to take down a structure. Then they take every piece of that structure that is salvageable to their Kaka‘ako Warehouse where people come to find and re-use these ‘treasures.’ I spoke with Sales Manager Victor Ward about what it’s like to be a part of this process.
“When we throw something ‘away,’ think about where ‘away’ actually is,” says Victor. “I think about how when we toss something ‘away,’ it’s really going back into our home – our home which is this planet Earth.”
Victor sees the glass as “half full,” and explains how if we can see a negative in something, we can also flip it into a positive. His attitude parallels the vision that sparked Re-use Hawai‘i – all this “stuff” we see as trash that goes into the dump can also be seen as treasures, materials with stories and history, that can be created into something new and meaningful. “In some ways, it’s a tough sales job,” admits Victor, “we don’t purchase anything that we sell, since everything depends on what, by chance, wanders into the shop.”
Victor says he is always inspired by all the curious and sometimes mysterious objects that come onto his sales floor. Often people come in just to get ideas for a project they’re working on, browsing for any pieces that might add a spark of creativity to their work. Victor laughingly says, “I spend at least 15-20 minutes of my sales day standing there, looking at something, thinking, what is this!?” Working at Re-use Hawai’i never gets dull.
Not long ago, Re-use Hawai’i ended up with 20 large rolls of carpets made from recycled fishing lines that just wouldn’t sell. Though they were priced at just $200 per roll, an extremely low price for such material, they just wouldn’t budge. Only one sold over the course of three months. While Re-use Hawai‘i is a nonprofit, the organization must sell material to cover the cost of operations, and to make space for the continual flow of salvaged materials from projects and community donations.
Jae Madiro, Re-use Hawai‘i’s Redistribution Manager, has been collaborating with a nonprofit that is building homes for Kupunā residents on Moloka‘i. She knew these would be the perfect place for the carpets, so the team donated all but one of these large carpet rolls to this project and cut the remaining roll into smaller pieces that flew off the sales floor within the week.
As a result, an important project in Moloka’i received the carpets it needed, AND Re-use Hawai’i achieved its mission of diverting waste from the landfill and providing resources to the community. Meanwhile, local homeowners and small business owners could finally buy pieces small enough to fit into their spaces – at a price cheaper than at the carpet stores. A win-win-win!
This is just one example of how Re-use Hawai’i works with the community to increase sustainability and resiliency in Hawai’i.
Re-use Hawai’i is one of a kind in Hawai’i. Co-founded in 2006 by Quinn Vittum, the organization’s current Executive Director, and Selena Tarantino in response to Hawai’i’s waste problem, Re-use Hawai’i offers deconstruction services and makes salvaged materials available to the public at very affordable prices. The company is seeing its vision through, helping residents and businesses of Hawai’i make more sustainable and environmentally sound decisions.
Victor left his previous job during the pandemic, and when he saw the job posting for Re-use Hawai‘i, he eagerly sent in his application. He’d gotten to know the organization and its warehouse from his volunteer experience with the Honolulu Tool Library, another environmental nonprofit that rents space within the Re-use Hawai’i facility. Victor was the person for the job, and he began his work with Re-use Hawai‘i in 2020.
And, as a dancer myself, I had fun discovering that Victor had previously been a swing dance instructor and dancer! He and his wife still find nights to get out and boogie from time to time.
You can learn more about Re-use Hawai’i by following them on Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn (@reusehawaii) or at https://www.reusehawaii.org/.
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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)