Category Archives: Hawai’i-related

The Hidden Tsunami of Debris

This is the title of a September Honolulu Weekly article by Stuart Coleman about the plastic plaguing Hawai‘i’s coasts, only some of which is from the Japan tsunami of  2011, including a large concrete dock that appeared north of Molokai. Coleman writes that most of what is left to float here is plastic, because the construction and housing debris was wood and metal and has deteriorated and sunk.

Coleman profiles Dr. Marcus Eriksen, who, since seeing the Pacific Garbage Patch with Captain Charles Moore in 2005, has made the debris that is accumulating in five different gyres in the world’s oceans his cause. He and his wife Anna Cummins formed an environmental nonprofit called the 5 Gyres Institute to try to find solutions to the problem, which threatens our health as well as the environment. Why our health? Coleman explains, “Most plastics are made with chemical additives like bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates, known endocrine-disruptors that can lead to obesity, infertility, cancer and other health problems. Micro-plastics also absorb the toxic chemicals from pesticides, flame-retardants and polluted runoff. When fish and marine creatures mistake these toxic micro-plastics for food, the poison travels up to the food chain to foods we eat.”

The problem is daunting, but one solution being proposed is Extended Producer Responsibility. Explains Coleman, this policy is designed to “make companies more responsible for the life cycle of their products, from design and distribution to recapture and recycling. Eriksen argues that by promoting EPR, companies will design better, safer and less wasteful products.”

Read the full article here. And see earlier posts on marine debris by clicking on that category, or click on these links.


Good-news video: fishing nets to electricity

This brief video from the Surfrider Foundation Kaua‘i shows a team of volunteers organized by Malama Na Apapa on Kaua‘i taking a 3-years’ accumulation of derelict fishing nets and delivering them to H-Power’s waste-to-energy facility on Oahu. They filled a 20-foot container with nets and ropes collected from the reefs (underwater work) and the beaches, keeping them away from marine animals and the landfill both. A lot of work is on display–those nets are heavy!


Tsunami debris hits Oregon early, bringing alien species

NPR has some of the best stories on the huge dock that traveled from Japan to wash up on Agate Beach, near Newport, Oregon, 15 months after the devastating tsunami.

Here’s one from AP, which details painstaking efforts made to remove alien species that arrived with the 70-foot dock and that might gain a foothold and threaten native seaweed and shellfish. A similar story about scouring and even blowtorching the metal to remove the aliens that aired on NPR (and you can listen to it as well) has residents suggesting that the dock may attract tourists to the Newport area.

My favorite story, from All Things Considered on June 19, tells what it’s like to patrol the beach in Oregon or Washington, watching for plastic bottles with Japanese writing. The reporter, Martin Kaste, quotes Carey Morishige, Pacific Islands coordinator of NOAA’s marine debris program, who works out of Honolulu and does a very big job with a very small staff (and the North Pacific is a very big place). The best description of the dock with its hitchhiking species is by an Oregon State University biologist specializing in invasive species; he calls it “an island that had drifted across from Asia.” This metaphorical island came with real residents, however, and unwelcome ones judging by the hostility of their reception.

It’s a settled issue–refuse bottled water

If you want to make a commitment to the environment nothing seems easier than deciding to abstain from bottled water. If everyone did it–just said no to drinking out of the 15- or 20-ounce bottles, even when they are offered for free with your meal or at an event–it would have an impact in a myriad of ways: for starters, it would cut down on plastic pollution and make a small dent in global climate change by reducing the amount of petroleum used in making the bottles and in shipping and recycling them. I haven’t drunk from such a bottle in years, and it seems like more people would like to save money by carrying a reusable bottle and refilling it when they are thirsty. Look at these figures from Honolulu Weekly editor Mindy Pennybacker’s book Do One Green Thing (which has a foreword by Meryl Streep):

“If just one out of 20 Americans stopped buying water in disposable bottles, we’d save 30 million pounds of plastic waste. We’d save the fossil fuels used in the plastic, which equals seventeen million barrels of oil. Adding in the energy used for pumping, processing, transporting and refrigerating bottled water, Americans would save 54 million barrels of oil, the same as running three million cars.”
According to Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, bottled water, on average, costs from one to 2,000 times more than municipal water. Even if the BWS [Board of Water Supply] raises Honolulu rates 70 percent, tap water would be better for our budgets and the planet.

With figures like these, and my awareness of studies comparing the safety of tap and bottled water by the National Resources Defense Council, I thought the need to forgo bottled water was settled, just as throwaway-bag bans or fees seem so logical. But then I ran across a column in the HPU student newspaper, Kalamalama, that presents the views of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) which, not surprisingly, opposes attempts to outlaw bottled water in vending machines on campuses, claiming that students must have freedom of choice. The IBWA has even produced a YouTube video, “Student Activism 101,” that critiques the student groups working on this issue.

I should have expected that the industry would fight back against the many groups, many led by youth and college students, who are striving to make a difference by pointing out the harms caused by a completely unnecessary product that is nevertheless bought and consumed by the billions. Common sense doesn’t stand a chance apparently, just as in the case of plastic-bag bans and fees, which are fought intensely by plastic-bag manufacturers and industry groups like the American Chemistry Council (these groups spent $1.4 million in Seattle to get residents to repeal a 20-cent bag fee, upon which the City Council turned around and passed a bill that outright bans plastic bags, and not just in grocery stores but in most categories of stores, food trucks, and farmers’ markets). I know it’s tempting to believe the industry arguments, because it’s sometimes easier to just buy the water and rationalize it in the name of convenience of hydration, but the companies are less regulated than the municipal water agencies and interested in profits, not your health. Read a few of the critiques of the corporations that spend so much on advertising to make us prefer bottled water to tap water, or watch a documentary like Tapped or FLOW: For Love of Water; they should persuade you, and might even convince you to encourage others to take that simple green step. Ask your elders what they did before plastic bags and bottled water became ubiquitous. As I remember, we managed just fine.

Letters to the Editor

Sierra Club Hawai‘i’s Capitol Watch asked us not only to write testimony in support of the bag bill under consideration at the legislature but to consider writing a letter to the editor of the Star-Advertiser. It’s been on the receiving end of considerable media attention and the team wants to make sure positive responses overwhelm any negative ones. I was inspired by a brief but eloquent letter in the Honolulu Weekly by Diana Sellner, entitled “Protect our ‘aina”:
The time is now to pass plastic and paper bag legislation on Oahu. Plastic and paper bags are not only a nuisance but an eyesore. The bags are so light, they are easily swept up by the wind and blown all over the city, into our streets, parks, streams and onto our beaches.
      “Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘aina I ka pono.” We need to preserve our precious ‘aina, and get rid of these bags!

Mine is somewhat longer, as I tried to suggest that in a cost-benefit analysis, the benefits would predominate:
We need SB 2511, which levies a 10-cent fee on plastic and paper bags, to become law.
       The benefits? Less litter, which looks bad and costs taxpayers to clean up. Fewer plastic bags fouling streams and ditches, causing backup and flooding. Fewer bags to entangle marine animals. Money saved by retailers because people won’t switch to paper bags, which cost more to produce and use up more resources.
       The costs? Produce bags aren’t affected, so you can clean up after your pet for free. You don’t have to pay–you can bring your own, as you do at Costco, and as we used to do before plastic bags were the norm. If you want a few to line your kitchen waste can, the fee is affordable. Besides, the fees will go toward restoring and protecting our valuable watersheds.
        Sounds like a win-win for everyone but the bag manufacturers, who fight throwaway-bag bills everywhere they are proposed.
It’s easy to send a letter to the paper. Email directly or fill out a form online so that you don’t forget to give your name and a daytime telephone number.

Tsunami debris tracked with buoys

Check out the blog about all things science in Hawai’i, by veteran environmental reporter and columnist Jan TenBruggencate. It’s called Raising Islands. A January post details a combination high-tech (satellite-tracking buoys) and low-tech (wooden blocks with identifying information) method of finding out where the debris from the 2011 Japan tsunami is drifting. The idea to deploy buoys and blocks was developed by a team of researchers from the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawai’i. The post suggests that the debris had not hit the Northwest Hawaiian Islands as early as predicted because of a stationary front to the southwest of Midway that was keeping the debris well north of the atoll. The post tells you how to report   any of the wooden blocks you find on the shore or from a boat.

Hawai’i’s Single-Use Bag Law Gains Momentum

Bringing it home to Hawai'i legislators

A coalition of environmental groups held a rally at the state capitol Feb. 9 before a senate committee heard testimony in favor of a bill aimed at drastically reducing both plastic and paper bags by charging 10 cents (an “offset fee” rather than a tax or levy) on all single-use bags at checkout. Read about it and see a picture of the plastic-bag monster on the Sierra Club Scrapbook blog. Volunteers littered the Capitol lawn with 400 bags, representing the average number one person uses annually (for less than 15 minutes, on average). It certainly got legislators’ attention (“What’s up with the bags on the lawn?”), and about 50 people testified at the hearing.

As with plastic-bag laws elsewhere, the goal is to change people’s mindset, so that they get used to bringing reusable bags to the grocery store or ABC store. If  they forget their bags, they will take fewer  because of the fee–and refuse all double-bagging. Because this is not a bag ban, revenue will be generated by those who use bags provided by merchants–perhaps as much as $20 million per year, which would go toward restoring and protecting the state’s much-threatened watersheds and rainforest areas. As the  Sierra Club’s Robert Harris points out, if people get used to bringing their own shopping bags, there won’t be as much money available, but that will  be a sign that the law is working and that plastic pollution is being significantly cut. This helps the environment, but in a different way. The law could come to a vote in a few weeks; if it passes, it could become a national model.