Kaʻelepulu Elementary School

Independence, Can-Do Attitude

Student enrollment, K-6: 208

Start: August 2016
• Total 2016 food waste recovered, one semester only: 8,955 lbs. (4.5 tons)
• Total 2017 food waste recovered: 17,058 lbs. (8.5 tons)
• Total 2018 food waste recovered: 15,288 lbs. (7.6 tons)

Ka’elepulu is a one-class-per-grade-level, close-knit campus famous – and widely envied – for successfully instituting Silent Lunch, a delight for adults and a practical tactic for getting kids to actually sit quietly and eat their food. Two 5th grade students are assigned to help at the Separation Station for one week – rotating through, each 5th grader gets to serve three times over the year.

A food waste audit was conducted early August 2016, documented in the opening sequence of the Zero Waste Revolution video. The unstoppable Ka’elepulu Ladybugs never looked back – food separation commenced the very next day and a compost pile was established on the hillside next to a large, long-abandoned garden. A few months later, a small worm bin was acquired through a Kokua Hawaii Foundation grant and installed in the school’s charming courtyard by the aquaponics system.

Initial Volunteer Leadership
Unlike Resource Recovery pioneers Palolo Elementary, Pearl City High, and Lanikai Charter School, Ka’elepulu did not have the advantage of professional staff to initiate and manage the program. Parent volunteer Lindsey Whitcomb was determined to make it work anyway. We tried our best to discourage her, but – lucky for us – she could not be deterred. Lindsey was largely on her own for the first year, with only minimal training and consultation. As the numbers show, she was successful in diverting 8.5 tons of food waste and establishing a workable operation.

Compost pile harvesting commenced in March of 2017. Fourth, 5th, and 6th grade students do all the harvesting at Ka’elepulu. Since there was no gardening program set up at the time, some compost was stored, but most was sold. Within the first year, Ka’elepulu earned over $1,200 from compost and surplus worm sales. They made history by being the first school to run a completely Zero Waste community fun fair event.

Shortly thereafter, with assistance from UH Master Gardeners and a group of parent volunteers, a donation of recycled stadium benches from Kailua High School to construct raised beds, and a few cubic yards of their own custom compost and vermicast, the abandoned garden was revived. Each grade level planted crops of their choice and the results were absolutely stunning!

Sadly, the reality is that volunteer projects at schools are extremely difficult to sustain. Lindsey moved to the mainland, her replacement made a noble effort but burned out on the fierce daily demand. The gardening support group dissolved by the second year.

Hui Absorbs Ka’elepulu
A garden can lay fallow for a while, but once Resource Recovery becomes the waste management model for a school, it cannot be set aside – consistency and reliability are critical. At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, Ka’elepulu officially was taken under the wing of the Windward Zero Waste School Hui, with a professional staff member covering food waste collection and processing every day and managing the overall program.

We are happy to be there – we love this little school with their supportive administration, wonderful head custodian, energetic teachers and confident, helpful students. Ka’elepulu runs smooth as silk, having established such a strong foundation. Ka’elepulu is a fine model for other small schools who see Zero Waste in their future.