2010 Environmental Heroes
Meet seven Maui residents who display a heroic commitment to our island's environment.
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I turn down Wilma Nakamura’s grassy driveway in Keokea, and park beside her late ’90s Mercedes Benz. Wilma steps out of her front door, passing three lounging cats as she walks to greet me. Later I’ll learn that the car gets forty miles per gallon and runs on recycled vegetable oil.
As a graduate student at UC–Santa Barbara, where she received her M.F.A. in sculpture, Nakamura got an education in environmental activism. “Community gardens, composting, and recycling were commonplace,” she says. In 1991, she worked to have land donated for community gardens in San Ramon.
She grew up on the Big Island and was grateful to return to the Islands in 1992. “When you make Hawai‘i your home, you just signed up to look after the land and the ocean.”
An environmental entrepreneur, Nakamura has been involved in various Maui nonprofits. She serves as executive director of SharingAloha, an organization dedicated to preserving the environment through education and some unusual projects—such as collecting worn-out athletic shoes and shipping them to the mainland to have the rubber soles recycled.
SharingAloha also puts on the Art of Trash, an exhibit featuring art created from recycled objects. Nakamura signed on as coordinator in 1996, when Big Island artist Ira Ono brought the idea to Maui.
Cosponsored by Maui’s Community Work Day Program, Art of Trash creates opportunities for talking about reducing, reusing and recycling. The show is held annually—when funding is available—and will be at the Maui Mall this April in honor of Earth Day.
“We never know until the last minute what will show up,” says Nakamura. “It will blow you away, what people come up with.” Even the entertainment uses instruments made of trash. Last year, artist Robert Sargenti brought ukuleles made from cigar boxes and drums made from buckets. His musician friends “stole the show,” Nakamura says. “We invited them to play this year. They call themselves the Junk Band.”
Through another SharingAloha project, Nakamura teaches a class on composting and worm composting one Saturday a month—for which she charges a nominal $5. When people kept asking where to find a good, affordable composting bin, she researched to locate the best, and got the County of Maui to pay the freight, reducing the cost by more than half. The black cylindrical bins, which she sells at her classes in Kahului, are made from recycled plastic.
David McCreight, president of SharingAloha’s board, says Nakamura “makes activism seem effortless. She gets people interested and able to see that they can make recycling and composting a part of their life through simple changes.”
At the end of our interview, Wilma invites me to attend this year’s Art of Trash—and maybe even participate. The exhibit is open to all Maui residents.
She says people often attend the opening dressed in “trash,” and describes how she accessorized her simple black dress for last year’s show, sewing pleated ruffles of newspaper and attaching them to the bottom of the dress, then adding a cummerbund of black-and-white tissue to the waist.
Evidently, when your life is all about recycling, there’s no such thing as having nothing to wear.—Jen Aly