HONOLULU (KHON2) — Every year, Americans throw away approximately 67.4 million tons of paper and cardboard, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

EPA’s most recent statistics from 2018 said these products — nondurable goods like newspapers and paper plates — comprised the largest component of municipal solid waste. Hawaii also uses a lot of cardboard. According to Circle Pack, it’s enough cardboard to make a large hill, maybe a couple.

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“I was moved to start Circle Pack to offer packaging supplies to local businesses in Hawaii and quickly realized there were challenges in the recycling and waste management field,” said 30-year-old founder Evan Lam, who currently lives in Waimea.

From e-commerce to agriculture, Hawaii goes through thousands of cardboard boxes every day. When it gets recycled, it’s shipped off thousands of miles away, according to Circle Pack.

“Unfortunately, in the outer islands, we have limited infrastructure and a high need for responsible management of our resources, including recycled materials and organic resources,” said Lam.

Lam started his organization in 2020, which is based in Waimea but operates all over the island. Circle Pack works with the local community to use cardboard in making soil for farmers. They also make compostable packaging, garden and art supplies to replace imports.

“A lot of people recognize that the materials in our waste stream are useful, it just requires creativity, commitment and resources to figure out how to do it. So burying materials like cardboard and food scraps in landfills or burning them — while convenient — isn’t a very innovative or responsible solution that really benefits communities and people see that.”

Evan Lam, founder of Circle Pack

“People want soil, compostable materials, and systems that reduce waste instead of incentivizing it,” Lam continued. “But, there’s a disconnect between what’s practiced and funded versus what people see on a daily basis. With climate change, supply chains, and the pandemic, the feedback I’ve gotten is that people are really ready to do things differently.”

Circle Pack is currently focused on demonstrating possibilities in community scale economic development.

“The business sells packaging supplies directly to local businesses, collaborates with a network of nonprofit and community organizing partners to host Community Shred Days, and I also offer mobile shredding services,” said Lam.

Lam added that he has a mobile, high capacity shredding setup that can go anywhere and process hundreds of pounds of used cardboard into a more useful form.

“Working with a network of excellent community partners like Ma’ona Community Gardens, I’ve managed to shred over 22,000 pounds of cardboard, and most of it has gone to create soil for our local farmers,” said Lam.

As far as other islands, Lam is happy to share that there are people out there who have also taken the initiative to invest in their own equipment and work on similar projects. He knows of teachers, farmers, entrepreneurs and community organizers who are implementing their own shredding programs.

“One that comes to mind is Hanai Kaiaulu in Nanakuli who’s been doing a lot of heavy lifting to teach their youth about composting, recycling, and food skills while creating diversion programs at their school,” said Lam. “I know the majority of the projects happening, so anyone interested in getting connected is welcome to connect with me to learn more.”

Anyone who wants to get involved can email hello@circlepack.co.

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“I think the main message is we’re in a historic moment and the job of the present is to avoid disaster while improving the lives of our communities, the communities that make Hawaii what it is,” said Lam. “Without those people, Hawaii stops being Hawaii. It is really time to do things differently.”