Going Plastic Free at the Student-Driven Sustainability Fair

By Liam ’21

The Punahou community gathered April 6 at an annual campus event to teach and learn about ways to live well while protecting our island Earth. But this year, the name of the Sustainability Fair carried an important dual meaning.

For the second year in a row, the popular fair was organized and run by Academy students – focused on sustainability at Punahou – who demonstrated that they could develop a pipeline of young leaders to keep the fair going for years to come. 

From 2006 – 2013, the Sustainability Fair was put on by Punahou’s Luke Center for Public Service, which recruited students, teachers and organizations to present information and activities about conservation and how to live healthy, sustainable lives. When the tradition ended, students missed it. So last year, with guidance from Luke Center, Shoshana ’17 and Alexis ’19 revived the fair — wanting to share a favorite event with fellow and future students.

This year, Alexis was in charge, with help from a team of Academy freshmen and juniors ready to take the lead in future years. The 2018 challenge was “plastic free,” and many booths adopted this idea. K – 12 Learning Commons Catalyst Mrs. Vanessa Manuel-Mazzullo’s group opted to use glass Mason jars instead of plastic cups in their hands-on activity, which described the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goalsKōkua Hawai’i Foundation’s Plastic Free Hawai’i program hosted a table that encouraged visitors to make a “plastic free” pledge, such as giving up plastic straws. The recycled art tent, coordinated by Gordon ’19, included the Art Explorium and did not use plastic debris in crafts, to remind people that the best way to reduce such trash is to eliminate single-use plastics in the first place.

Despite having a solemn message, the Sustainability Fair is also a place to learn from peers in an enjoyable and interactive way. Two fifth-grade classes that presented booths embodied that perfectly: They used fun games to talk about serious problems, such as economic inequality and ubiquitous plastic pollution.

When not educating their classmates, student participants could be seen powering a lightbulb with a hand crank to demonstrate how much electricity lightbulbs use, or riding a stationary bicycle to make a smoothie — the revolving wheels powering a blender.

“I’m really glad to see the Junior School kids participating,” said Lauren ’19, a Fair leader. “It’s a great opportunity for them to not only learn about sustainability, but also teach about it.”

Watching the younger students reminded the Academy student leaders how we became involved with the Sustainability Fair — first as attendees, then as presenters and finally as organizers. I remember being a first-grader at the fair and discovering how tap water and bottled water taste exactly the same. As an eighth-grader, I helped run a booth promoting reef-safe sunscreen (with no oxybenzone). Now, as a freshman, I’m part of the student team committed to continuing a fun event that has a profound message.

As “Aunty Chandra” Peters, the Luke Center coordinator who advises us, said: “It isn’t just about the Sustainability Fair, it’s about sustaining the Sustainability Fair.”