Back in January of this year I met with Al to discuss what I’d be taking on as the Associate Director of Hawaii Ocean Ambassadors. We set up a game plan for the next several months and brainstormed for a few hours. We discussed the endgame and what steps would get us there. Al had the idea of interviewing people in the sustainability and beach cleaning community. I like to think of these people as the game changers. The ones who not only are brilliant and fun but are out there day in and day out getting it done.
The reason I wanted to start this interview series off with our individual interviews is because I felt that there wasn’t enough about us on the website. I want people that visit our site to not just read a little blurb about each of us. I want our visitors to be able to see the why for Al, Zack and I. We have traveled different paths to get to where we currently are and those stories deserve to be told. So without further ado, I give you interview number two! Mine! - Kalei
What got you involved in beach cleanups and sustainability?
For me it started with a photography class on social change in college. I focused on beach trash and marine debris creating images out of the trash I collected. Eventually it became the reason I got up in the morning each day before class. I was struggling to sleep well at night and was often riddled with anxiety. After a night of bad insomnia I would spend the early morning cleaning the beach.
Sustainability came about at around the same time. I started to do a ton of research on zero waste and what that meant and eventually turned my lifestyle into what it is now. A lifestyle that creates a lot less trash and uses virtually no single use plastics.
Seeing the amount of plastic on the beach throughout that early project was sobering and a reminder of why I wanted to change my lifestyle.
What keeps you motivated?
For me it’s a mixture of things. I follow a zero waste tag on Instagram along with a ton of different beach cleanup organizations. They’re a good reminder of what we’re working towards and why. Also being around my friends who get it (Zack and Al) is a great motivator. They both get the big picture and what we’re pushing towards. I can’t tell you how many late night talks we’ve had on the topic of trash, sustainability and beach cleanups. I always leave them a bit tired but reinvigorated and inspired.
For people that want to become involved what do you suggest?
Find a local organization to start working with. That’s what I did after I wanted to work with other people. For a while it was just me. And that worked for a couple months but after college and after all my friends moved away I wanted people I could relate to and work with. I started out working with Sustainable Coastlines here in Hawaii and then started working with Hawaii Ocean Ambassadors and 808 Cleanups. Eventually I took on my current role as the Associate Director of Hawaii Ocean Ambassadors.
What about for those that don’t live near the beach?
You can start by finding an area near where you live that could use some love. If there’s a lot of trash in a park or even on the street grab a bag and pick it up as you go on walks. If you live near a hiking trail pick up trash as you go and store it in your bag. Whatever trash you bring in on your hike make sure to pack it out.
For those that may not see the importance of this issue what do you suggest?
I suggest watching documentaries like “Smog of the Sea” produced by Jack Johnson. Another one I love on food waste is “Wasted” narrated by the late Anthony Bourdain. I also suggest looking through the websites of the organizations I mentioned. They have great resources and photos that show exactly what it is that we’re dealing with.
What gets you up out of bed in the morning?
My alarm? I’m kidding. On workdays it’s usually my alarm because I begin work pretty early in the morning. On my days off it’s the excitement of getting to do a beach cleanup with my friends. As the Associate Director of HOA I get to organize a lot of the beach cleanups we take part in. Whether it’s with different local schools or if it’s a group of my friends it’s so much fun to get out there and get it done.
What sets HOA apart from the pack?
What I love about HOA is that we’re completely community and friend based. At the end of the day the people we work with aren’t paid to be there. They choose to take the time out of their days to get out there and put in the work to get the job done. They show up with enthusiasm and they work their butts off to find and remove trash. It’s inspiring.
What strides in your day to day life are you making to reduce your plastic intake?
Right now I’m working on making my bathroom products as plastic free as possible. I’m a huge fan of Lush Cosmetics and have been working on switching over to mostly solid products. I use their solid shampoo, solid conditioner, soap bars, solid citrus lotion and a solid face oil.
My favorite face wash is definitely Let the Good Times Roll, it smells like Caramel Apples! They also have a recycling program where if you turn in five clean black pots you get a face mask for free. They recycle those pots and reuse them for new products. (This is not a paid ad, I just love their mission and products!)
Another company I love is Bite Toothpaste Bits. They come in a glass jar and have a subscription you can sign up for so you don’t have to worry about placing an order if you’re almost out of bits!
What do you suggest for people that want to start reducing plastic in their daily lives?
Start with something that seems manageable and don’t try to get rid of all the plastic immediately. I started with bringing my water bottle everywhere with me and a set of utensils for when I’m out and about. Also try to use up whatever you have. Don’t waste the product just because it comes in plastic. Before you’re completely out try to research and find an equivalent product that is manageable for you in price point. It also needs to work as well or better than the product you were previously using.
What’s next? Any exciting projects?
Well right now with everything going on with the Coronavirus it feels like things are at a bit of a standstill. I’m hoping to continue our interview series with community leaders even if they are digital, over the phone or through email. I’ve also started picking up trash in my backyard. I live off the Palolo stream and at low tide the water drops to ankle deep water which is perfect for retrieving trash! As my roommates like to say my weakness is trash and this is the perfect way for me to do what I love to do without having to leave home or go to the beach!
If there’s one thing you want people to remember after reading this, what is it and why?
A little over a decade ago I went on an 8th grade retreat with the theme “Make a Difference”. I remember being handed a silicone bracelet on that retreat that I continued to wear for years after as a reminder. Each and every one of us has the power to make a difference in this world. Don’t become complacent and pawn off the work to someone else. You are more than capable of putting in a bit of time to make a change in your community. Going on your daily walk during quarantine? Bring a bag for trash you see along the way. Your neighbors and community will thank you even if it’s silently. Also please wash your hands after picking up any kind of trash! Don’t pick up things that may be dangerous with your bare hands and if you’ve got a trash picker bring it with you!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more great interviews with sustainability experts, marine biologists, and conservationists which will come out once per week on 'Sustainable Wednesdays!'