Hawaii Island Student Innovators Tackle Plastic Pollution

Several Hawaii Island student teams have been working diligently since January to come up with ideas on how to help solve one of the island’s urgent environmental problems. They are competing in The Success Factory – NexTech’s Fish Tank, the first STEM competition of its kind in Hawaii Island designed to empower youth to create solutions for local problems by leveraging design thinking and the engineering process. “Hands-on STEM education like Fish Tank invites students to explore and contribute solutions to island issues, and engage directly with STEM and business professionals,” explained Doug Adams, a board member of The Success Factory. 

This year’s competition is focused on the plastic waste problem. “This is a real problem. County of Hawaii disposes of approximately 130,000 pounds of waste plastic every day. We know there is a solution and we are confident that  this challenge will help us to find a positive approach for our island.” – William Kucharski, Hawaii County Department of Environmental Management Director. Since the County’s recycling program is no longer accepting plastics, much of this waste is making its way to our landfill.

The competition started in January with 36 students (grades 6-12) from all over the island. The students hailed from towns across the island. They were supported by volunteer mentors and active and retired subject matter experts from Hawaii County, Recycle Hawaii, and local engineering firms.

Due to the social distancing, school closures, and stay-at-home orders brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, several teams had to bow out of the competition, leaving four teams in the finals. The remaining teams had to quickly adapt and adjust – they shifted their collaboration online and found ways to work on their designs over Zoom video conferencing. They are now preparing videos of the project presentations and will present their ideas to judges at an online competition on April 25.

NexTech Fish Tank competitors have been appreciative of the opportunity to continue with their competition, despite the COVID-19 situation. “It’s good you guys kept this going. It would have been painful to have gone through all this work and have to quit because of this.” – Fish Tank competitor Bobby Knotts.

Competitors will meet with judges over a Zoom virtual meeting on April 25, 2020. They will share their video presentations of their solutions with Fish Tank judges:

  • William Kucharski – County of Hawaii – Dept of Environmental Management
  • Sanne Berrig – County of Hawaii – Dept of Environmental Management
  • Judy Mellon – Small Business Development Center
  • Megan Lamson – Hawaii Wildlife Fund 
  • Kristine Kubat – Recycle Hawaii

Jim Wyban from HIPlan will be emceeing. 

Winners of the Fish Tank competition will be awarded valuable prizes, including gift cards and cash prizes for a non-profit, school, or STEM club of their choice. Top teams will receive a mentoring session with Jim Maggarff, serial entrepreneur and inventor. Maggarff invented the LeapPad Learning System and Livescribe Smartpen.

Tickets to the free event are still available at NexTech Fish Tank Eventbrite.

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