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Speakers at the U.S. EPA Investing in Hawai'i: Zero Waste press event on October 12, 2023 in Hilo
Speakers at the U.S. EPA Investing in Hawai'i: Zero Waste press event on October 12, 2023 in Hilo
Reusable glass jars return area at Hawai'i Community College
Reusable glass jars return area at Hawai'i Community College
EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman speaking at the press event on October 12
EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman speaking at the press event on October 12

Biden-Harris Administration Makes Over $2.1 Million Grant Investments in Innovative Reuse and Refill Program in Hilo, Hawai’i

Project to protect public health, replace single-use plastics,
and reduce marine debris

(Hilo, HI) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) celebrated the historic investment of $2,145,122 from President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda to help create a city-wide reusable foodware system in Hilo that is focused on training, technical assistance, and infrastructure.

Reuse systems eliminate unnecessary trash and its associated negative human, environmental, and economic impacts. The University of Hawaiʻi Sea Grant College Program’s project will provide technical assistance to businesses that make or serve food in Hilo to establish a safe and affordable, community-wide reusable foodware program. Foodware includes containers, cups and utensils provided to customers who purchase prepared foods.

Technical assistance will include on-site assessments, development of written materials and online training, and help in developing collection, washing, and logistics infrastructure to support the circulation of reusable items through a fee-for-service model. The proposed project will improve human health and the environment, particularly in disadvantaged communities, by decreasing plastic waste and reducing human exposure to chemicals of concern in Hilo.

“This model reuse program will eliminate polluting single-use plastics and packaging to protect community health, cut waste and marine debris and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “The results of this program will help inform zero waste actions around the country and the world.”

“Hawai’i Sea Grant is thankful to have EPA support our partnership with Zero Waste Hawai’i Island and Perpetual to address plastic pollution at the source,” said Hawaiʻi Sea Grant Director Darren Lerner, PhD. “We are excited to bolster the health and resilience of our coastal communities by providing safe, affordable, and reusable foodware options to our local schools and businesses in Hawaiʻi.”

“We are excited to begin working with our community to implement this groundbreaking city-wide reusable foodware and refillable bottle system in Hilo,” said Mayor Mitch Roth. “Our residents have been advocating for more recycling and waste reduction systems, and we now have the opportunity to give them more options thanks to the hard of our Environmental Management team and the trust and assistance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

The project plans to develop the program with community input to improve food safety, reduce people’s exposure to chemicals of concern found in disposable foodware such as cups, containers, and packaging, and to reduce waste, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Greater availability and use of safer and more sustainable products can reduce harmful chemical exposures and their impacts on human health and the environment in disadvantaged communities. Alternatives to disposable foodware are often not equitably available. A top priority is to create a system that is inclusive, convenient, and accessible to everyone.

The system is being designed through extensive community engagement, led by Zero Waste Hawaiʻi Island, to inform a reusable foodware system rooted in kanaka,‘āina, and akua connections (People, Land, and Spirit). Project partners include the County of Hawaiʻi, Zero Waste Hawaiʻi Island, and Perpetual, a non-profit that is helping businesses, local governments, and communities in four cities across the U.S. design and implement reusable foodware systems.

The Hilo community is invited to participate in the design process through a series of public workshops the week of October 23, 2023. More information is available here.

EPA’s Pollution Prevention Grant Program advances President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which aims to deliver 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized by underinvestment and overburdened by pollution. Learn more about EPA’s Pollution Prevention grants.

Last month, EPA also awarded a Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling Grant to Hawai’i County to develop Hilo’s reuse infrastructure.

Learn more about EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region and read the Region 09 News Release.

Contact Information

Alejandro Diaz (