Kokua Hawaii Green Programs Impress EPA


For some people, a lifestyle change can start with swapping a plastic bag for a reusable one. Kim Johnson and the Kahuku-based Kokua Hawaii Foundation truly believe it.

“Some people, they start with the bag, then they start carrying around the reusable water bottle and it just becomes habit,” Johnson said. “Then you start seeing, ‘Oh wow, I don’t need to take a straw because that’s disposable; I only use it once,’ or you start thinking about where plastics come in in other areas of your life.”


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In addition to tending to garden crops and recycling drives via Kokua Hawaii Foundation programs, area schoolchildren are introduced to this wiggly form of compost. Photo from Natalie McKinney.

Johnson and musician husband Jack founded KHF 10 years ago to establish environmental education programs in schools and the community. What started with a recycling program has expanded to include multiple projects involving thousands of students around the state.

And those outreach efforts have earned the attention of the U.S. EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region, which named the organization one of its eight 2013 Environmental Champions. “The exciting thing for us is to know that environmental education is making its way to be seen on the national level, which is so important for the movement, especially for the farm-to-school and school garden movement that we’re really involved in here in Hawaii,” Johnson said.

Current KHF projects include ‘AINA In Schools, a farm-to-school focus on everything from nutrition to salad bars; 3R’s School Recycling, promoting waste reduction in 50 schools; and KHF Field Trip Grants and Mini-Grants, which support small, teacher-driven projects.

“It’s really amazing to see in the last 10 years, the consciousness has changed. More and more teachers … are taking on these environmental issues, and a more sustainable lifestyle is becoming more mainstream,” Johnson said.

KHF’s newest effort is Plastic Free Hawaii, helping to reduce Hawaii’s single-use plastic consumption by distributing reusable bags and getting the message out at farmers markets and other sites. Johnson said they are pushing the campaign hard in light of the upcoming July 1, 2015, ban on plastic bags on Oahu.

“I think (what we do) really shows people the ‘why’ behind trying to curb our dependence on single-use plastics,” Johnson said.

Also new is the Hawaii School Bottle Cap Collection Challenge. KHF can recycle the caps that are normally thrown away during plastic bottle recycling. The contest runs until March 31 and is open to all Hawaii schools. Interested groups should visit for more information.

KHF always welcomes contributions, and ‘AINA In Schools in particular relies on volunteers to both teach lessons and help prep campus gardens for students.

Upcoming recycling drives are set for March 8 at Kaelepulu Elementary and March 22 at Mililani Waena Elementary. The next beach cleanup also is March 22.

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