Archive for March, 2011

Marine debris at Papahanaumokuakea

March 9th, 2011


Nets collected from the ocean at Papahanaumokuakea. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Over the past 14 years, some 740 tons of marine debris — we're talking fishing gear and nets — have been removed from the waters and shorelines of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, now officially known as Papahanaumokuakea.

None of it was dumped there.

Unfortunately, the reefs there become a natural comb for collecting marine debris from all around the Pacific Rim.

Besides damaging the coral reefs, these nets potentially entangle endangered species like the Hawaiian monk seal.

A monk seal at Papahanaumokuakea. Courtesy.

A monk seal at Papahanaumokuakea. Photo courtesy of PMNM.

A sad portrait, but there is at least some effort to make use of the trash found in the middle of the ocean.

The Hawaii Nets to Energy Program takes the debris — collected every year by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Coast Guard crews — and converts it to energy.

First, the Schnitzer Steel Hawaii Corporation picks up the debris from the ships and trucks it to its scrap metal recycling facility at Campbell Industrial Park. Then nets, fishing line, and rope are cut into small pieces, which are then shipped to Honolulu's HPower energy-from-waste facility run by Covanta Energy.

Since the Hawaii Nets to Energy Program started in 2002, it's estimated that the debris has created enough electricity to power more than 600 homes on Oahu for a year. NOAA says these marine debris removal projects in Hawaii are possible through these public-private partnerships.

Still, what's alarming is that marine debris is one of the primary threats facing Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, along with invasive species and global climate change.

It's also critical that we explore how to reduce marine debris reaching Papahanaumokuakea.

Click on this NOAA link to learn what you can do to make a difference.

"Marine debris is just a symptom of how we manage our resources," said David Swatland, NOAA Deputy Superintendent for Papahanaumokuakea in a press release. "Until we change our behaviors, these issues will continue to threaten our ecosystems."

For more information on Papahanaumokuakea, designated as the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site in the U.S., visit

The 5th International Marine Debris Conference, co-organized by NOAA and the United Nations Environment Programme, takes place in Honolulu from March 20 to 25. Visit for more information.

$250 to replace the clunky fridge

March 8th, 2011

Got a clunker fridge?

If you're a resident of Hawaii or Maui county, you have two weeks to swap it in for an ENERGY STAR fridge from a local appliance retailer for a $250 rebate. Any fridges that are 10 years or older can be considered clunkers — including the extra one sitting in your carport.

The rebates from Hawaii Energy became available yesterday (March 7), and are available, thanks to funds from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The program was available on Oahu in May of last year.

Native Hawaiian homestead residents on the Big Island and Maui will also be eligible for $250 rebates for the purchase of ENERGY STAR refrigerators and/or washing machines thanks to the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA). Homestead residents can contact the Council for a rebate application.

Older model refrigerators guzzle up a lot of energy.

An energy-efficient fridge can use up to 40 percent less energy than older models, and result in savings of between $1,700 to $2,000 in electricity bills (at today's current oil rates).

An ENERGY STAR front- or top-loading clothes washer also uses 20 to 35 percent less energy, and 15 to 22 gallons less water per load compared to a standard full-size machine.

Hawaii and Maui county residents must visit a participating retailer such as Home Depot, Lowe's or Sears to purchase an ENERGY STAR fridge, then send a rebate application and proof of purchase to Hawaii Energy.

Here's a list of participating retailers.

Island Appliance Sales and Service on Lanai is a participating retailer, along with Hamai Appliance on Maui.

ENERGY STAR fridges must be purchased between Monday, March 7 and Saturday, March 19, while rebate applications must be postmarked by Saturday, April 30. The clunker fridges must also be hauled away and recycled by a participating retailer.

Better hurry! The rebates are only available until funds are depleted.

Visit Hawaii Energy for more details.

Reusable bags

March 8th, 2011

Where is your bag made?

Another reader asked where one could purchase a simple, canvas bag made in the U.S.A. without any logos on it.

When you look at most reusable bags, you'll find the ubiquitous "Made in China" tag or discover that your bag was made somewhere other than the U.S.

After searching, I found Project GreenBag, which offers bags made from certified organic cotton made in San Francisco. Another place to shop is at, which also sells produce bags.

You can also check out, which sells reusable shopping bags as well as produce, snack and sandwich bags.

Most of the reusable bags you see being sold with supermarket and store logos are made of polypropylene, which itself is plastic. It's really not my favorite material, as far as reusable bags go. Read more about polypropylene here.

Canvas or organic cotton are best, though they can be a hassle to wash.

So far, my favorite reusable bags are the ones you can fold into a small pouch and carry in your purse or backpack — ChicoBagsEnviroSax, and Baggu. They are the easiest to carry, and come in handy on those days when you forgot to put reusable bags in your trunk.


Here's my stash of reusable bags, including some from Trader Joe's.

Attention green film-makers

March 8th, 2011

Think you've got the creative know-how to make a short film exploring what life would be like if Hawaii ran out of gas?

This month, Showdown in Chinatown (Honolulu's premier underground short film challenge), kicks off with "The 21-Day Film Project" in partnership with the Blue Planet Foundation.

Competitors have until next Friday to create an original short film on the topic of "Powerless or Empowered: What if...Hawaii ran out of gas?" of up to 7 minutes in length.

It must include a dialogue line: "Throw me the rope," plus props including roller skates and a blender.

Entries are due between 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, March 18 at Bar 35.

More information is available at the Showdown in Chinatown website.

The top 12 entries will be screened and judged live on the big screen as part of the "Main Event' at 8 p.m., Saturday, March 19, at Next Door.

The First Place winner gets $500 towards Film Festival submission fees and a Go-Pro HD Helmet Hero Camera. The Second Place winner gets the Helmet Hero Camera. The Third Place winner receives four iTunes gift cards.

See shorts from past winners here.

A plastic ban or fee?

March 8th, 2011

Which would you prefer — a plastic checkout bag ban or a fee?

It's really a tough dilemma because on the one hand, we need to reduce plastic waste in our landfills, waterways and in the ocean. On the other hand, no one likes extra fees.

And yet a fee may be an effective way to get people to think twice about it.

Two pending bills at the Hawaii Legislature ask this very question, and might determine the future outcome of plastic checkout bags at your local supermarket.

  1. SB1059— Proposes a ban on the distribution of single-use plastic checkout bags by businesses grossing more than $300,000 to to customers at the point of sale starting July 1, 2012.
  2. HB 998 — Proposes charging a 5-cent fee for each single-use checkout bag (including both plastic and paper) provided to a customer, with exemptions, starting Jan. 1, 2012.

The Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club, and Conservation Council for Hawaii support the ban. The American Chemistry Council — you guessed it – opposes the ban, saying it supports recycling programs instead.

Interestingly enough, the Hawaii Food Industry Association is opposed to the Senate bill, but says it supports the concept of the House bill proposing the fee.

"If we want to encourage reusable bag use, a fee is a good way to do so," says HFIA in its testimony opposing the Senate bill. "A plastic bag ban does not accomplish this goal."

Still, the HIFA says implementing a fee would be an "administrative nightmare" for some businesses because plastic checkout bans are in place on Maui and Kauai counties. So the group wants the same bag law uniformly in all counties, including a repeal on the bans on Maui and Kauai.

That's a good point, but let's not go backwards.

There are also people who say they need those free plastic checkout bags to line their wastebasket, carry wet sneakers in, and pick up dog poop with. Environmental groups point out that those bags really aren't free — there is a cost passed on to the consumer. There is also an environmental cost.

There's no simple solution. What everyone seems to agree on is that paper bags are no better than plastic bags.

The best solution, really, is to bring reusable bags.

If you already bring reusable bags to the supermarket, then both of these bills aren't likely to affect you because 1) You don't need a paper or plastic bag at checkout and 2) You won't have to pay any fees using your own bags.

On top of that, stores like Foodland and Down To Earth give 5-cents credit per bag to customers who do bring their own bags. Hopefully, that will continue.

jeb_bagit_movieSee "Bag It"

If you missed "Bag It" at the Capitol Auditorium last month, there will be another free screening from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 10 at the William S. Richardson School of Law, Classroom 1 (2515 Dole St).

A Q&A with representatives from the Surfrider Foundation and William S. Richardson School of Law regarding single-use plastic bag bills will follow.

The film will also air some time after April 18 on Hawaii Public Television.

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