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HPU project tries to get handle on disposables' impact on landfills

By Nina Wu

LAST UPDATED: 9:52 a.m. HST, Apr 21, 2011

Where does your coffee cup go?

That is a question that Hawaii Pacific University students Krystle Golly, Brittney Walbaum and Jessica Weh­ling are asking consumers as part of a hands-on proj­ect for their "Building Sustainable Communities" class this semester.

The three students will work in partnership with the nonprofit group Kanu Hawaii to raise awareness over what goes to our landfills starting with single-use disposable coffee cups.

Golly and Wehling are environmental science majors, while Walbaum is a marine biology major, and they're excited to be taking their proj­ect outside of the classroom and into the community.

Tomorrow through Thursday, the trio is putting out collection bins at local coffee shops in and around Fort Street Mall near the university's downtown campus and at its Hawaii Loa campus on the Windward side.

They will sort, rinse and recycle each cup collected. Small cards informing consumers about the collection effort will be handed out with coffee beverage purchases.

Plastic cups that are No. 1 and No. 2 can be recycled, while some of the paper cups might go to an HPU professor to use for a seedlings proj­ect.

At the same time, the students will be surveying consumers both downtown and on the Windward campus about their coffee cup habits and attitudes.

Kanu Hawaii will be running a Waste Challenge program at the end of this year using information from those survey results.

As featured in "Bag It," Suzan Bera­za's documentary, single-use disposables like water bottles and coffee cups might make our lives more convenient but are only used as little as a few minutes before ending up in the trash.

The best way to reduce disposable cup waste is by bringing your own reusable cup or mug when you buy a drink. Starbucks sells reusable coffee cups for both iced and hot drinks.

As part of their research, the three students even took a dive into the campus dumpster to see what they would find.

It turns out that about 40 percent of the dumpster's contents was compostable, while another 10 percent consisted of HI-5 containers (aluminum, glass and plastic beverage containers redeemable for 5 cents each). There was also some recyclable paper.

It's important to divert some of this, especially when there are so many issues with landfills in a state with limited land, according to Weh­ling.

Golly, Wehling and Walbaum are advocating for more recycling bins on the HPU campus. All three carry their own reusable cups to coffee shops. They are also taking a closer look at what they can recycle at home.

After the cup collection, the students will take a follow-up survey and work further with Kanu Hawaii to raise awareness about disposable coffee cups. Their proj­ect is due toward the end of April. Sounds like an "A" proj­ect, with tangible results.

To make a commitment to recycle or bring your own coffee cup, go to kanu­

Nina Wu writes about environmental issues. Reach her at 529-4892 or

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