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Big Island Business Turns Plastic Trash Into Sales

Sherry Bracken
Mattie Mae Larson says tinkering and reusing materials as a child motivated her to create Upcycle Hawaii.

Governments in every county across the state are cutting back on plastic. On Hawaii Island, the county is no longer recycling plastic, and that’s where one woman has turned a problem into a business.

Upcycle Hawaii owner Mattie Mae Larson talks about how she got into the business of repurposing material that would otherwise end up in the landfill.

“It goes back to being a kid. I have been tinkering and reusing, and my Mom used to call me a little MacGyver. I would take materials and remake them into other things. And I entered my first farmers’ market in 2014. I got such a great response, that’s what really motivated.” 

Upcycle Hawaii has evolved from creating handbags and earrings out of pop-tops to her current practice of using what she calls “fused plastic.”

“We mainly focus right now on sheet plastics. Everything comes to Hawaii wrapped and shipped in plastic. We utilize those materials to grind them down, and re-melt them.” 

Upcycle Hawaii’s products are at more than 15 locations throughout the state, and she’s in talks to expand to Japan. She was recently a participant in the Made in Hawaii show on Oahu. 

“Our colored shredded plastic line is kind of taking off in popularity. Some of my most popular products are my zipper pouches, and our bring your own cutlery pouches. Pouches and handbags and jewelry drive our sales.”

Larsen works with two part-time employees at her Hilo location. Most of the work is manual, but she wants to do some mechanization to help the business grow beyond this year's $60,000 in revenue

“I’m not at capacity. We are producing right now about a thousand bags a month, and when it comes to our smaller accessories, like keychains and earrings, we can produce multiple thousands per month.”

Larsen says she needs more raw material — clean plastic wrappings. She’s also looking for a $10,000 dollar investment to expand.  You may learn more about Upcycle Hawaii at upcyclehi.com

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