Hawaii Students Awarded Prizes for Solutions to Plastic Pollution Problem

On Saturday, April 25, Hawaii Island students presented their ideas on how to solve one of Hawaii’s urgent environmental problems – plastic waste pollution. “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,” commented 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 into the landfill.

Hawaii Island students (grades 6-12) competed 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. 

Fish Tank started in January with a dozen teams made up of 36 students from all over Hawaii Island.  They were supported by volunteer mentors, retired engineers, experts from Hawaii County, Recycle Hawaii, and local engineering firms, including Big Island Engineers Association.

“This program has been a delight for our engineers. Our group had been looking for opportunities for our engineers to engage our youth and increase interest in Engineering, when I came across Fish Tank. We’re thankful that we were able to contribute to the competition. It was very rewarding to see our students in action.” – Bruce Meyers, President, Okahara and Associates.

Due to COVID-19 social distancing, school closures, and stay-at-home orders, several teams had to drop out. The remaining teams quickly adapted and adjusted to the COVID-19 situation, shifting their collaboration online and found ways to work on their solutions over Zoom video conferencing. 

Competition Outcomes

The final four teams presented videos of their solutions at the virtual Fish Tank competition on April 25. Here are the teams and their placements:

First Place TeamSave our Seas – Clara E (8th grader from Hilo), Lilla L (7th grader from Hakalau), and Nova S (6th grader from Papaikou). Save our Seas designed a vending solution for refilling commonly used detergent and cleaning solutions as a means to reduce single-use plastics.

Second Place TeamT.E.A.M – Tyler B (9th grader from Waikoloa), Cody B (9th grader from Kona), and Ashton P (9th grader from Waimea). T.E.A.M. proposed a pyrolysis-based solution as a way to recycle plastics.

Third Place TeamRimPAC4 – a team of St. Joseph students – Ezra M, Elijah M, Koen D, and Treysyn C (all 6th graders from Hilo). RimPAC4 proposed a robot to remove plastic pollution from beaches.

Fourth Place TeamBobby and Opal – Bobby K. (8th grader from Laupahoehoe), and Opal J. (6th grader from Pahoa). This team proposed a recycling process that transforms plastic waste into blocks that can be reformed for other uses.

A total of $5200 in prizes were awarded at the competition. Each team won gift cards and cash prizes for a non-profit, school, or STEM club of their choice and the opportunity to continue pursuing their concepts with some of the judges. First and Second place winners also have the opportunity to be mentored by  Jim Marggraff, serial entrepreneur and inventor of the LeapPad Learning System and Livescribe Smartpen, and MJ Marggraff, innovator, pilot, and author. The Save our Seas team was offered grant-writing support by Kristine Kubat of Recycle Hawaii. 

These teams’ solutions were ranked based on their technical report and their presentations. Judging was conducted by a distinguished panel:

Technical Report Judges:

  • Bruce Meyers – Okahara and Associates, Inc.
  • Renee Ishisaka – SSFM International, Inc.
  • Alan Thompson – County of Hawaii – Department of Public Works
  • Curtis Beck – Bowers + Kubota Consulting
  • Neal Herbert – Retired Engineer
  • Sterling Chow – County of Hawaii – Department of Public Works
  • Austen Drake – SSFM International, Inc.

Presentation Judges:

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

Jim Wyban, HIPlan and Marine Genetics founder, emceed the event. 

Special guests included MJ Marggraff, pilot, innovator, and author, Mattie Mae Larson of Upcycle Hawaii, and Scott Doll, CEO, Rotary Global Impact Group.

“Kudos to the Fish Tank participants for a job well done. Their perseverance, creativity, and passion for solving an urgent environmental challenge INSPIRE action and INCREASE the creative tension that Hawaii desperately needs at this time. We are looking forward to more of this great work at Fish Tank 2021.” – Noel Morin, one of the Fish Tank organizers. 

Fish Tank 2020 was made possible by partners and supporters – Okahara and Associates, Inc., Guide Star Engineering, LLC, Big Island Engineers Association, Hawaii Community Foundation, County of Hawaii, Rotary Club of Hilo, Center for Community Engagement, and University of Hawaii, Hilo.

###The Success Factory is a grassroots 501(c)(3) non-profit that serves as an economic development initiative by inspiring and building STEM career readiness through NexTech STEM Programs for Hawaii Island youth. The Success Factory builds a STEM-engaged community of students, parents, educators, professionals, and experts through various workshops, camps, and competitions. For more information on NexTech and the Fish Tank, visit nextechhawaii.org.

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