Bringing Down the House

A local nonprofit shows that recycling doesn't have to stop with bottles and cans.

Re-use Hawaii’s Mike Bertoli (left) and Shane Tialavea (right) standing on what remains of a Kahala home.

Photo: Olivier Koning

When it’s time for a building to come down, the common option is demolition—razing the structure as quickly as possible. Entertaining as it is to see bulldozers, sledgehammers or even a wrecking ball level an entire building, the process leaves behind a serious problem—a huge amount of lumber and other building materials that go straight to local landfills. Since 1995, roughly 30 percent of Hawaii’s waste has come from construction and demolition, according to the Department of Health’s Office of Solid Waste Management.

That’s where Re-use Hawaii comes in. Founded in June 2007, the nonprofit specializes in deconstruction, a demolition alternative that recycles material for consumer use.

“Salvaging material is a no-brainer,” says Re-use Hawaii co-founder Selina Tarantino. “The practice not only conserves trees and energy, it lessens the demand for new material, a process which consumes an enormous amount of energy. Harvesting what we already have instead of burying it in a landfill seems logical and necessary.”

A common misconception is that deconstruction companies come in after a building is torn down and then scavenge for reusable material. Not true, says Tarantino. Companies like Re-use Hawaii have specially trained teams that disassemble structures piece by piece to maximize the amount of material recovered.

Very much a grassroots operation, Re-use Hawaii is based locally and employs only a 10-person crew. It operates out of a tiny lumberyard in Kakaako (across the street from John Dominis) that serves as a distribution center for salvaged material.  

If you visit the site, you’re likely to see materials from two of its more recent jobs: 20,000 square feet of maple tongue-and-groove flooring from the gym at Punahou School as well as 500 louvered mahogany doors from the Ohana Islander Waikiki which will soon find a new home on Molokai.

Not limited to commercial projects, Re-use Hawaii also provides its services to residential homes. You will receive a tax-deductible receipt based on the reusable material you donate, quite valuable if you are deconstructing an entire house. Re-use Hawaii does accept a limited amount of material from the public, depending on the capacity of its yard. For more information, call 282-8052 or visit