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Talking Trash and Going Green

Plastic debris on the beach at Kahoolawe by US Ocean Gov via Flickr

Plastic debris on the beach at Kaho'olawe by US Ocean Gov via Flickr

I’ve been following, with some interest, the news about Hawaii’s efforts to manage their garbage issues. They’re making more trash than they can process and, in an effort to deal with the problem, had planned to ship it to my back yard. The garbage would be bundled into three ton bales, loaded on ships, and sent to a processing facility on the Columbia River in Washington.

“It’s a Band-Aid on a bullet hole,” said John Guinan of the Trash Man Hawaii, a garbage hauling company. “But we don’t really have much of an alternative at this point.” At the same time, he warned: “I guess it’s a good idea until the barge tips over and we’ll have a massive spill in the South Pacific.” —USA Today

The deal stalled early last week due to … well, it’s confusing and sounds like politics, more than anything. There are votes for extensions to keep the landfill open, talk of pressure from resort properties, a weird sideline about who paid for the scale, and still, the garbage piles up.

As visitors to Hawaii, there’s no denying that we’re part of the problem. The hotels I stayed in on my last trip did not have clear options for recycling and I ended up leaving big piles of paper (brochures, newspapers, tourist propaganda) on coffee tables across the islands. Some of the places we stayed provided disposable coffee cups instead of reusable ones, throwaway plastic water bottles were ubiquitous, and on the streets of Waikiki, it seemed that every third tourist was carrying a plastic bag from the ABC store.

Hawaii’s Ecotourism Association (HEA) has a list of best practices for visitors to the islands, including the no-brainer-yet-always-forgotten idea of bringing a cloth shopping bag and a reusable water bottle. A search turned up no LEED certified (essentially, built green)  hotels in the islands, though the Aqua chain is a member of the HEA and they’ve stated that their goal is to get a LEED certified property.  (For the record, I’m a fan, I like any place with free wifi and a nod towards kitchen facilities in your room.)

I’m not a perfect traveler. I like the little bottles of product, though I found that I did not mind getting my shampoo from a shower mounted dispenser if it was clean. I do typically carry a backpack so it’s easy to pass on the plastic bag, though I like to have one or two for a wet swimsuit or a dirty pair of shoes. It’s not a hassle for me to sort my trash or refill my water bottle, I’m happy to do so.

But on the downside, I have been deeply disappointed by the lack of rental car options — why can I not get a Smart Car or a hybrid? I’ve found public transit, which I actually like to take, is sorely lacking outside of Honolulu, I was deeply frustrated at the Maui airport by how hard it was to get to Lahaina using public transit, it might have been easier to hitchhike. (If I feel that way, and I’m just a visitor, transit must be especially maddening for residents.)

My efforts to keep my footprint small are probably totally negated by the fact that I have to fly to get to Hawaii, but the idea that a plastic bottle that I throw away in Waikiki will follow me home … it kind of makes it my problem, doesn’t it?

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