Revaluing Maui’s Waste Systems: Three Plans to Change Cultural Paradigms Surrounding Waste
This initial proposal looks at areas of opportunity where Maui could initiate sustainability into the current consumption and waste infrastructures on island— within the system boundaries of being an island.
This final research project focused on working out three system strategies to increase sustainability within the system of Maui’s waste management, and find ways in which the systems could be adopted and applied within the current waste system.
Past and Present of Waste Management
A generalization of what the system looked like in the past, what it looks like in the present and what it looks like in the future.
Systematic Problem Defined
Defining the system under exploration and the systems above, below, and parallel to it.
Digging into details of the parallel system, and highlighting that the sub-system of a municipal waste system is its products and all details included in the creation and life of a product. Products are the INPUT into the system of interest = the waste system. The super-systems above the municipal waste system are all of the systems involved with the environmental and locality of the system.
Island as a Boundary to the System
An island has a boundary line that is in close proximity to and interconnected with other surrounding systems, working in a delicate balance to maintain its borders as an island, yet is also dependent on the outer systems for support.
As a system, it has boundaries defined by both the visual makeup of landmass (sedimentary rock, dirt, stones, clay/silt, stones, dirt sand and decaying matter) laying above sea level, as well as distinctively defined by the the outer surrounding water mass itself. It is usually but not always surrounded by ocean (salt water).
An island has a hierarchy that defines where specific subsystems live and naturally gather (defining a niche for survival, adaptation, and evolution), most noticeably the elevation that give way to the formations of bioregions-- starting from the summit level down through forests/rainforests, scrub lands/plains, to the shoreline and below the shoreline into the continental shelf and ocean floor. This hierarchy also helps in defining the boundaries of an island, where potential ports or openings exist at the system's boundary, and how the system connects with other outer systems.
The system boundaries of a waste management system is set around physical materials that no longer serve their initial function. The system is also restricted to the human species, and is run to manage outputs (material end-of-life) from their settlements. The physical boundaries of Maui’s managed waste system includes the islands of Maui, Molokaʻi and Lanaʻi (in red), which make up the total of Maui County. Kahoʻolawe (in yellow) is not included as it has no human inhabitants. The boundary of the system concerns mainly land-based areas (where humans reside) and is defined by the natural borders made between the shoreline and the ocean.
The waste system is entirely depended on the environmental conditions within the boundary lines between sea water, land and air indicating the border where the INPUT and OUTPUT meet the system’s perimeter. The island’s environment also dictates where is the safest place for the storage of waste as well as the modes of transportation needed to run the systems of waste on and off the islands—limited to planes and ships due to the isolated location of the islands. The waste system also needs to protect itself against the natural surroundings —seasonal hurricanes, rainy seasons (water contamination), and be cautious that its disposal location doesn’t completely destroy the livable conditions for species that call the islands home. The waste system is in direct relationship with the environment through its use of the surrounding resources for its management as well as its effects (negative or positive) it has on the natural environment.
Island Environment: Animals, plants, the tides (sun and moon) and the weather system are continuing their cycles alongside created human systems. They ebb and flow and continually cycle parallel to human’s activities on the island. Energy in these surrounding systems are collected and released in every moment, continuously changing. In these surrounding environmental cycles, there is no waste needed to be feed into the waste systems unless humans decide to use, collect and manage. Human’s waste is quite opposite, using linear systems of waste management and cycling toxic emitters back into the atmosphere within the waste system such as CO2 and methane gas, as well as the potential of leaking contaminants into the ground water and reefs.
Business and Consumer Systems: Maui’s waste system is directly tied with the corporate chain stores and small local businesses that depend on selling product to locals and visitors to sustain themselves. Tourism seasons are therefore in direct correlation with the amount of waste that the islands need to manage. Business systems involve the import of materials that will eventually become a part of Maui’s waste system—either ending up in the landfill or being cycled back into the parallel systems of reuse, compost or recycle. Linear consumer cultures and buying cycles also feed the waste system and instigate the demand of the waste management efforts.
Community, Governing Laws, State Funding: A community’s understanding of waste and the way they consume materials is a overlaying aspect as to how waste is perceived, prioritized by the county, and dealt with. Developing a system relies on the patterning of continual habits and customary actions of a community. New patterns are dictated by the community. The community also votes and shapes governing laws by voting people into office, and also guides where state funding goes towards. Taxes paid by each working resident goes towards the current infrastructure and systems such as waste management.
Parallel Interacting Systems
Recycling and Compost: Maui’s waste system is working parallel with Maui’s composting and recycling efforts, two things that work to divert some of the waste away from the municipal landfills. It is carried on by the home-user who makes the choice to sort recycled items out and drive it to the collection centers, which then ship out recyclable materials to off-island producers. Recycled items include: newspaper, aluminum & bi-metal cans, class bottles & jars. cardboard & paper bags, and plastic #1 and #2 neck bottle containers. Home owners also drive green landscape waste to the compost facilities. Produce scraps are left in the hands of consumers to create there own home composting piles as no county-wide composting for household waste exists. These systems are usually privately owned or run, but are interconnected with the waste management system through county/state grants and are bound together under the sole purpose of managing product waste.
Reuse and Repurpose Systems: Maui’s waste management is directly tied with the cycling of the reuse and repurpose systems. Platforms such as Craigslist, Ebay and Facebook Marketplace have added to the convenience of reuse aside from physical setups like garage sales, consignment and thrift stores. The waste system’s collection is correlated to the amount of items that stay in use and in cycle more times.
Products: Products are the elements that make up the input for the waste system. Without products, the waste system would not have a purpose and would cease to exist. How products are made and their quantity of production amounts to the needs that will need to be met in waste management. Providing consumer transparency on products about their real lifetimes will help bring awareness on the real costs of creation. Cheap disposable products would need to be revalued.
Design: Designing products, as well as the packaging containing them, is in essence designing future waste. The designer’s responsibility when creating product that will get consumed is to design smart, don’t over design, and to use the least amount of resources to solve the problem. Designer’s who have a holistic understanding of their design and who are just as concerned about the product’s after-life as they are about the user function will be affecting the input of waste that ends up in the municipal landfill or other paralleling systems of waste management.
Consumer Education: User education acts as a subsystem of waste, as it also roots to the crux of the waste system. Education informs action that turns into repeated action and habit. Trash to someone can be another person’s gold. Changing the mentality of “trash” and “waste” will change the way consumer’s view it and deal with it. If consumers are actively a part of the process, they can no longer ignore it.
The Skeleton of Waste Management System
System Function: To collect and move the flow of consumed material for human inhabitants within the islands of Maui County, and store waste items safely and securely.
System Elements: Maui’s waste system starts with the imported goods (ranging in lifespan and value) transported from airplanes and ships into the boundary of the island, passing through to consumers (be it from store, in person or online purchases). This makes up the INPUT that goes into the county’s waste streams—a landfill on each island. For valued pre-used, recycled and reclaimed materials that find a buyer (parallel system elements), they are transported back to the boundary line by air or ship as OUTPUT to other U.S. states or countries.
Relations Between System Elements: Without the INPUT and OUTPUT cycling of elements, the system would cease to exist. The system of waste needs products of consumption to discard or re-value.
Current System Flows
Areas of opportunity, ongoing risks, and definitive ends to current waste cycles.
As a Complex Adaptive System
An island’s waste management system is a complex adaptive system (CAS) due to its direct interaction with every single agent within the island community, and its ability to shift and perform when the information in and out changes, or when feedback within the community changes and new emergent behaviors require adaptation.
The internal modules include private and public spaces that accumulate waste within the island community. The building blocks are determined by the proximity and relation to the community that uses the waste management system.
The interactive flows between the agents also overlap, not interacting only with the waste management company, but also each other as different moveable agents such as locals and tourists move about within the community and use/consume in the different spaces (modules), producing trash. Trash bins are the spaces of interaction between each community member and the the waste management company. Things in the bin signify “trash”.
The context and interaction of the island’s waste management system is to take care of a community’s needs of waste removal, taking responsibility of the continued end-life of consumer waste regardless of the condition that the waste is in.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Self Organization: To Evolve to Survive
Evolution, be it from exterior system factors and internal pressures, will drive change. The choice is up to the system of Maui and its community to work proactively towards changing the was it values and manages waste, or to be reactive to the change that will ultimately take place through the build up of patterns and archetypes of the current system. Consumer buying habits, business choices, and the way designer’s create products (intention, purpose and lifetime) all affect the system of waste. Can waste be redefined and revalued?
Current Archetypes and Places of Intervention
Four main archetypes in connection with the system of waste management, and the underlying, reactional effects of each and possible leverage points in response.
Tragedy of the Commons: Through repetitive individual actions by each community member, derived from self-interests, we go against the common good for all members of the community by contaminating and trashing our live-depending resources. What emerges from this is a lack of feedback connected between our actions and its effects, and potential resistance towards policies and community rules that seem to compromise individual free will.
Shifting the Burden: Individuals within the community shifts their responsibility elsewhere, removing themselves directly from the feedback loop of their actions and making it someone else’s problem. This leads to behavior addiction for the “easy road”, ignorance and disconnect between self and environment (community, landscape, nature). Rule beating is also a side effect as “who really wants to take the blame?”.
The leverage points to disrupt both of these archetype are to create incentives towards responsible behavior, reconnecting the feedback loop, locate the responsibility in the system, and offer accessible education to the agents (community individuals).
Seeking the Wrong Goal: What is the actual goal in front of us? What is the goal of the community of Maui? This archetype determines the behavior of the system — how it works, functions , acts and sets up priorities. It is connected to values and purpose, and therefore is a navigation towards present and future actions. If the focus for Maui is “high consumption”, “development” and “growth” then the waste system would follow suite. This would support a quantity over quality mentality and perpetuate this belief in the world of trash.
The leverage points for this archetype are to question and redefine language use surrounding goals, values and systems within Maui and be clear that they are effective in meeting actual needs. Shift the goal towards rebuilding systems that celebrate diversity, complexity, and enhancing the larger super-system of the island.
Escalation (Limits to Growth): Our continuing actions cannot go on forever without consequences. This archetype highlights the limits to input (consumption) and output (waste). exponential growth cannot go forever— in homogenous economies like tourism, in desecrating shared resources, in exceeding the capacity limits of an island to compete with global markets.
The leverage points for this archetype are to define a capacity and encourage a local competitive market, diversify and allow for experimentation, retrofit to slow down change, create balancing loops in the system, and expand the boundary of carrying from just the system to beyond.
Three Proposed Approaches to the System
Consumer Education and System Transparency: Paradigm shifting through individual shifts
Neighborhood Composting with Incentive: Reconnecting immediate feedback loops of consumer action to consumer
Adding and/or Redifining Waste System Language in the Community: waste= food, compost, cyclical, eco=effectiveness, waste = expensive, linear consumption, product end-of-life
Educate and Inform the Maui Consumer: This would be on many topics within the Curriculum of Revaluing Waste. Their would be Zero-Waste events that would be a resource to inspire and bring the community together to celebrate and learn about the current waste system, its affects on our community, and action plans to lessen the growth of waste escalation.
Model neighborhood composting facilities (on agricultural farm lands) would be hubs of weekly learning for the community through workshops and hands-on learning that range from Do-It-Yourself hacks, composting lessons, healthy soil, gardening and growing food, and building businesses and services that cater to waste reduction. These would be the space of community gathering, and connecting with solution #2.
As cultural paradigms take a long time and effort to fix, as there may be strong resistance, working on the “small successes” and influencing openminded individuals little by little will start to get the momentum going, eventually moving towards a tipping point.
2. Neighborhood Composting
As the population grows, and more housing apartments, townhomes and condos get built in closer proximity to each other, the majority of people’s access to land and property to compost or grow food is diminished. In this constellation, community facilities for composting and food gardens would assist in managing shared needs for these communities.
Compost generated from each household’s food waste could be used to regenerate and activate the surrounding lands and help them revive their soil ecosystems. The finished compost could also be sold back to farms( and the profits given back to the community to fund initiatives such as food gardens or maintenance of the community such as in Home Owner’s Associations) or the composting could be maintained on agricultural land and participating households would get a membership discount on their monthly farm produce boxes to feed their family. In both cases, it would create an added incentive and encouraging participation in this system instead of wasting this waste stream.
This paired with education would also solidify a cultural meme that would encourage each member in the neighborhood to compost and participate— “Waste=Food for new resources”— giving a social pressure to return value to the community.
Neighborhood Composting Goals: The 3 E’s
To regenerate and awaken the microbial activity in Maui’s soil in all neighborhoods.
To make effective use of “waste” resources from the island community, and regenerate it into something of value.
Creating a safe space and management for disposing home food-waste.
Lessening the amount of trash destined for the landfill and the amount of times that a trash bag needs to be changed (food waste that is usually wet and smelly over time usually forces people to throw more frequently)
Improving the quality of life and health of the community by returning valuable energy back to their neighborhoods through soil quality.
Healthy soil leads to higher yields of crops with more nutritional value, limits soil erosion and would help the air and water quality in the neighborhood.
Fair share and distribution of resources amongst the contributing members of the community.
For neighborhoods with excess food waste, anaerobic digesters could be established for community gas energy needs.
Access to healthy local food for residents from all financial backgrounds.
A portion of the compost product would be sold to local agricultural businesses, and farmers could give their communities incentive for their compost input. A cycle from farmer, to consumer, to community, and back to the farmer.
Farmer’s would not need to import compost and chemical fertilizers from off island, saving money while supporting the local marketplace.
Providing jobs and retaining agricultural knowledge on Maui. Community compost managers would be hired, as well as soil educators. Farmers could get an extra income through leasing land to the County of Maui for use as the neighborhood’s community compost site.
Feeding Communities: Shifting the Individual Consumer Burden to Collective
Shifting the Burden: Being prepared for weekly meals (3meals x 7 days) can be a lot of extra work for one or two working people. Let’s not forget about the modern lifestyle demands to make a living, take care of family and be involved in the community. There are time constraints based on the amount of things we are expected (social and personal expectations) to accomplish in a day.
Solution: Composting areas on agricultural plots to dispose of food waste could become a hub for community exchange, where the community could share and collect resources such as food or goods exchanges/purchases. Farmers could have monthly memberships that residents can join and “subscribe” to, receiving weekly boxes of fresh produce that they can either pick-up on site or have delivered home. Another idea is to share the burden of meal creation with many, for example, many families in a neighborhood could join together and create a schedule in a format much like a community kitchen. The burden and responsibility moves from two heads to many heads. This could also make buying in bulk make more sense and more economical when having to buy dried goods that the farm doesn’t generate (e.g. pasta, rice, etc.)
3. Changing “Waste” Language
Using language to enrich system concepts. We only “see” what we can understand and talk about.
A society that can’t speak the language of “Waste=Food”, “Compost” “Cyclical”, “Eco-effectiveness”, “Waste=Expensive”, “Linear Consumption”, “End-of-Life” won’t understand current waste and consumer systems and their impact, let alone apply this language to their life. There is a gap in knowledge.
Transforming language can penetrate through cultural paradigms when paired with active advocacy, education and curriculum, workshops (applications) and hands on learning. It’s about learning a new language that can slip into and seep through the cracks and pours of the community, collecting individuals that can collect into a larger groups and movements.
Getting this language into policy making is a definite step in bringing awareness of the language and integrating new ways of thinking into traditional law creation. This validates the efforts of the language and how it is defined by the community.
A Way That the County of Maui Could Support?
Looking back to the current system archetypes makes the idea of transitioning Maui’s waste system seem daunting, but each solution even on its own would surprisingly offer a lot of growth and change. Tackling the larger leverage points needs time along with accounting for delays such as resistance, feedback loops, integration and willingness to change. These solutions are only coming from a small collection of paradigms and would need distribution, reflection, and further review.
At this point, starting with first solution of consumer education seems to be the most intuitive place to start as it not only brings like-minded educators and those with diverse waste and sustainability backgrounds and talents to the table, but it already starts the first distribution of a cultural meme that can then be distributed further into
Maui’s community through events, workshops, education programs and “how-to” tutorials. As Donella Meadows points out, shifting paradigms and goals are towards the top most effective was of intervening into a system.
“Ka lei hāʻule ʻole, he keiki.” A lei (garland) that is never cast aside is one’s keiki (child) -Hawaiian Saying
In reflection with this well known Hawaiian saying, revaluing the waste system is larger than the system itself. It is about valuing the decisions we make today that will affect the keiki (next generations) of our future. All issues surrounding this value cannot be caste aside. The community of Maui needs a common goal that spans bigger than survival and sustainability. It needs to work in a space that transcends current paradigms to defines new cultural paradigms that serve the whole, and works with a new language that reflects the desires of the island system so that it continues to evolve and exist.