Archive for February, 2012

Whoa! Fat oil disposal boxes

February 28th, 2012
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The Whoa! Fat box is a handy little box for collecting your kitchen oil disposal waste. Courtesy image.

The Whoa! Fat box is a handy little box for collecting your kitchen oil disposal waste. Courtesy image.

Most of you have probably heard of those oil change boxes where you can drain your motor oil from your car — if you do it yourself.

Well, it turns out that Island Shell Environmental Manufacturing of Aiea, which produces the Suck'Em Up Oil Change Boxes, also makes the Whoa! Fat Kitchen Oil Disposal Box.

It's basically a Chinese takeout box filled inside with highly absorbent cellulose materials made from recycled newspapers, cardboards and phonebooks (retail price $3), which absorb your cooking oil.

It takes up to four cups of oil. If you don't use it all up right away, you can store this box under your sink or in the fridge. When done, toss it into your trash can for curbside pickup (the oil will in turn go to HPOWER and be converted back into energy).

The Whoa! Fat Kitchen Oil Disposal Box has a cute logo, a chef pouring his frying pan oil into a box. Photo courtesy of Whoa! Fat.

The Whoa! Fat Kitchen Oil Disposal Box has a cute logo, a chef pouring his frying pan oil into a box. He looks like he's having fun. Courtesy of Whoa! Fat.

The logo is fun and kind of catchy.

Fats, oils and grease — collectively known as FOG — are the city sewer system's No. 1 enemy, according to a city report. When you pour oil down your sink, it cools in the sewer line and solidifies, potentially forming clogs that can cause your sewer to overflow or back up into buildings.

This goes for pretty much any kind of oil, including olive oil (which is what I mostly cook with) for simple stir-fries. It's not just the big vat of oils used to fry foods that we're talking about.

Brothers Chea and CJ Peat of CP Distributions LLC are the distributors of the Whoa! Fat box. They're getting the word out via social media, on Whoa! Fat's Facebook page as well as website.

Chea is actually a property manager, and he can tell you firsthand of the woes and expenses condo associations have had to go through to fix their sewer lines due to people pouring excess grease and oil down their sinks.

The boxes replace more traditional oil disposal methods, which include pouring oil into old milk cartons, jars and paper towels to clean up excess cooking oils. One reader called in to say you could make your own oil disposal box out of recycled half-gallon milk cartons and recycled newspapers — I think you certainly could and that's not a bad idea if you don't want to shell out money to buy a box. You would be recycling and keeping grease out of the sewer lines.

If you don't want to make your own box, then you can buy a Whoa! Fat box. What I like is that these boxes are actually manufactured here out of materials recycled from the island.

If you don't have access to Internet (as another reader informed me), you can pick up a Whoa! Fat box at Napa Auto Parts in Hawaii Kai (333 Keahole St.) and Kaimuki (3562 Waialae Ave.) or at Kale's Natural Foods at the Hawaii Kai Shopping Center (377 Keahole St.).

My Bokashi Bucket

February 20th, 2012
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Here is my Bokashi Bucket, filled with apple, banana peels and rice.

Here is my Bokashi Bucket, filled with apple and banana peels, old rice and macaroni.

Since writing about Throw To Grow, I've decided to give the Bokashi Bucket a try.

The Bokashi Bucket, in case you haven't heard of it, is an anaerobic composting system that ferments your food waste (including meat, dairy and bones) into rich, gardening soil. It's basically a 5-gallon bucket tucked inside of another one with a spigot that you can keep indoors in your kitchen.

Each One Teach One Farms entrepreneur Jim DiCarlo sells the bucket systems at Haleiwa, Ala Moana and Hawaii Kai Farmers' Markets. You can also find them at Kale's Natural Foods and the North Shore Organic Gardening in Waialua.

If you're handy, you could probably pick up two buckets from Lowe's, Home Depot or City Mill and make the system yourself, except for the activator mix (basically bran mixed with molasses and microorganisms), which is a more involved process. Jim sells a jar of the mix for just $5 at farmers' markets.

What I like about it, so far, is that it seems easy to use.

I keep my bucket on a little step stool in the kitchen, next to the trash can. Once a day, or once every other day, you take your food scraps, open the lid up, toss them in and close the lid again. When the food scraps are at about three inches, you take your jar of bokashi activator mix (basically bran mixed with microorganisms and molasses) and sprinkle some on top.

I wouldn't say it's completely odorless. Hopefully I'm doing it right, but there is definitely a sort of sweet and sour, pickled smell every time I open up the bucket.

It's not pleasant, but it's not horribly unpleasant, either. My husband says he can tell every time I open the lid, because he gets a whiff, but it usually goes away after we turn on the kitchen ceiling fan for a few minutes.

So far, I've thrown all kinds of stuff in the bucket — orange peels, avocado and banana peels, apple cores, celery, ginger, egg shells, old pasta, old rice, a whole head of lettuce that went bad, a whole box of granola cereal (that some ants had gotten into), a whole rotisserie chicken carcass and salmon skin.

The word "bokashi" has turned into a verb in our household. Now I say, "Are you done with this? Should I bokashi it?"

My bucket is about half full, so far. When you open up the bucket, you won't see any transformation of the food yet. Apparently that happens after it all goes into the ground.

So far, so good.

Some things that are good to know: You want to only add fresh, not rotten (or moldy) food or it will smell. It's a good idea to place a paper or ceramic plate on top to basically compress all the air down. It's best also to keep the bucket away from sunlight.

For more tips on using the Bokashi Bucket, go to eachoneteachonefarms.com/bokashi.

We have a worm composting bin, as well, in the garage, and usually I put on gloves to open the lid, move aside the shredded paper, before tossing in food scraps. Separating the worms from the vermicompost is a messy chore in itself (I make my husband do it). What's nice about the worms is that you can throw moldy stuff in there. What I find challenging is that we usually have way more food scraps than the worms can process (since we just started with a small starter kit, which took a year to grow into a small bin). I often wonder whether it might be good to invest in  a Can-O-Worms system that can take more food waste.

The bucket doesn't take up a lot of space, but seems to be able to handle the volume. So far it's not too much of a hassle to throw the food scraps in there. My dog sniffs the bucket lid with interest every time I open it, but she's not too interested in digging through it (thank goodness). I can't wait to see how this all works once the bucket contents go into the ground. Will keep you posted.

Here's a cool video from Kasha Ho at Kanu Hawaii explaining how she tried out her Bokashi Bucket: Bokashi "Unbucketing" from Kasha Ho on Vimeo.

Safe Planet contest: Plastic Pollution Solutions

February 16th, 2012
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Students in grades K-12, here's your chance to make the world a better place!

195_poster_hawaii2012Safe Planet, in partnership with the Hawaii Department of Education, Malama Hawaii and other partners, is launching a new art contest focusing on Plastic Pollution Solutions.

Students are to pick one, single-use plastic item in their homes and to re-design it in an eco-friendly, organic and non-polluting material. They must explain what it looks like, how it is made  and how it is used through a photograph, painting, drawing, graphic or sculpture.

The contest is sponsored by the UN Safe Planet campaign. It starts today, with a submissions deadline of May 18.

Prizes will be awarded in three age group categories: Grades K-3, Grades 4-7, and Grades 8-12.

Winning designs will be exhibited at a local gallery in Honolulu as well as the Galerie Califia in Europe during the summer. Winning designs will also be sent to local manufacturers who will create prototypes of the eco-friendly products. The top winning design will be exhibited at the Safe Planet Exhibition in Rio de Janeiro during the Rio + 20 Earth Summit in June.

Download the contest flyer and rules at new.artmill.eu/hawaii-usa#obsah.

Limited edition: Envirosax's water-inspired collection

February 15th, 2012
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Some proceeds from this limited edition Envirosax bag will go to the Surfrider Foundation's Rise Above Plastics campaign.

Design by surf-inspired painter Ned Evans.

If you're looking for a fashionable way to bring your own bag, check out Envirosax's water-inspired collection for the Surfrider Foundation. They can be found under the graphic series and cost $10.95 each.

These three designs feature artwork from the Foundation's artist friends Ned Evans, Robb Havassy and Melinda Morey (who grew up on Kauai).

With the collection, Envirosax and the Surfrider Foundation hope to raise awareness of the issue of single-use plastics in our marine environments.

Envirosax is donating 50 cents from every  bag sold to the Surfrider Foundation's Rise Above Plastics campaign.

Design by Melinda Morey, who grew up on Kauai.

Design by Melinda Morey, who grew up on Kauai.

"Our oceans, lakes and waterways are beautiful elements of nature we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy," said Envirosax CEO Belinda Coker. "We hope to inspire everyone to reuse. One tiny change is like a drop of water into a pond – it has the power of creating a big ripple effect..."

Two bills pending in the Hawaii State Legislature — House Bill 2260 and Senate Bill 2511 — propose requiring businesses to charge a 10-cent fee for every single-use checkout bag (paper and plastic) provided to a customer.

envirosax_SF-1.B3

Design by California surfer artist Robb Havassy.

A percentage of the fees are supposed to go to a "natural area reserve fund" towards the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' watershed initiative. The bill does not include produce bags (which you use to put apples and vegetables in), newspaper bags or dry cleaning bags.

Maui and Kauai counties already passed a ban on plastic checkout bags, in effect for about a year, with Hawaii county planning to follow suit next year. Honolulu county is the only county without a plastic bag policy in place.

The Oahu chapter of Surfrider Foundation supports the bill, along with the Sierra Club and supermarkets such as Safeway and Times.

Last year, Washington D.C. passed a law charging 5-cents for every plastic and paper disposable bag customers use when buying food or alcohol. In December, the Seattle City Council took a different tact, voting unanimously to ban plastic bags and set a 5-cent fee for paper bags. Seattle initially proposed a 20-cent fee on paper and plastic bags three years ago, but voters rejected the initiative.

Whatever happens in Honolulu, if you want to make it a personal habit to bring your own bag, you can do so any time. Supermarkets like Foodland, Down To Earth and Whole Foods currently offer 5-cents credit for customers who bring in their own bags at checkout.

My favorite reusable bags are lightweight, easy to carry in a pocket or handbag (if you roll them up like an umbrella) as well as stylish. You can use them to carry groceries home or as beach bags and lunch totes.

Visit www.envirosax.com to find more designs.

Paying for plastic

February 10th, 2012
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The plastic bag monster, played by James McCay, made an appearance at Thursday's press conference supporting a bill proposing a 10-cent fee for each checkout bag. Photo by Star-Advertiser photographer Cindy Ellen Russell.

The plastic bag monster, played by James McCay, made an appearance at Thursday's press conference supporting a bill proposing a 10-cent fee for each checkout bag. Photo by Star-Advertiser photographer Cindy Ellen Russell.

Would paying an extra 10-cents for that plastic checkout bag at the supermarket get you to bring your own bags?

Backers of House Bill 2260 and Senate Bill 2511 believe it will.

Unlike laws banning the sale of single-use, plastic checkout bags which went into effect on Maui and Kauai counties about a year ago (with Hawaii county to follow suit next year), this bill takes the strategy of placing a fee on them. A dime per bag, to be precise.

Backers of the bill — including environmental groups like the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Sen. Mike Gabbard (sponsor of the bill), DLNR first deputy Guy Kaulukukui and students from elementary school to college — held a press conference Thursday afternoon to rally support for the measures.

For once, business groups like the Hawaii Food Industry Association and Retail Merchants of Hawaii actually support this plastic bag bill. Safeway and Times also wrote letters supporting the bill.

I asked Stuart Coleman of the Surfrider Foundation: "Why support a fee instead of a ban like neighbor isle counties?"

He says backers believe the fee is a better strategy than a ban (several bills were introduced in past years, with no luck). But in counties that have implemented bans, says Coleman, the use of paper takeout bags has gone up dramatically.

Paper isn't necessarily any better for the environment than plastic. It takes almost four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as a plastic bag (plus the shipping required to get it here). They also cost a lot more.

If you're willing to pay a fee (which will go for both plastic and paper carryout bags, according to the bill's current draft), the bill proposes that a portion of funds raised through the bag bill fees support the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' watershed initiative.

"This is a way to take a problem and turn it into a solution," said Coleman. "This is completely avoidable. All you have to do is use a reusable bag."

Washington D.C. passed a five-cent bag fee (on single-use carryout bags) in 2010, with the goal of generating revenue for cleanup efforts at Anacostia River. The "Skip the Bag, Save the River" initiative hasn't generated as much revenue as estimated for the river, but it's effectively reduced the consumption of single-use, carryout bags by at least 50 percent. It seems to have worked in Ireland, which passed a plastic bag tax in 2002.

It's an interesting idea. Right now, supermarkets like Foodland, Down To Earth and Whole Foods will give you a 5-cent credit for every bag your bring in at checkout. Unfortunately, Safeway doesn't offer it any more.

The 5-cent incentive doesn't seem to have much impact, though, with people jumping on the bandwagon of bringing your own bag to collect that credit.

And let's face it — only a small percentage of the Hawaii population is really going to bring in their own bags out of a concern for the environment. It just isn't happening. But budget-conscious shoppers (we pay enough just to live in Hawaii, don't we?) might just balk at the idea of paying an extra 10-cents per bag at checkout.

Then again, some people won't care about the extra 10-cents per bag.

Maybe this will work. It has the support of more backers than past bills proposing a ban on plastic checkout bags in Honolulu. Maybe in the next generation, more people, like the students who showed up to support the bill, won't think much of bringing their own bags to the store ( or gripe about how they'll pick up dog poop or line their wastebaskets).

We do need to care about the proliferation of single-use, plastics in our everyday lives — from plastic bags to plastic takeout boxes, forks and spoons. It's not just about litter, but about the impact on our environment and our health.

Our lives are just too plastic, and if it doesn't end up cluttering the landfill (where it doesn't break down), it ends up in our waterways and ocean, potentially impacting human health.

If you haven't seen it, watch Bag It The Movie.

If you don't bring your own bags to the store, maybe you can start that habit now (it only takes three weeks to start a new habit). There are some pretty cool reusable bags out there, too. My favorite ones fold into a pouch and are easy to fit into your purse.

The "Bag Bill"

February 8th, 2012
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A random plastic carryout bag that found its way to the beach. Photo by Nina Wu.

A random plastic carryout bag that found its way to the beach. Photo by Nina Wu.

Most Americans use a takeout plastic bag for an average of 15 minutes before throwing it away. Yet that bag, wherever it ends up — in the ocean or the landfill — will take hundreds and hundreds of years to break down.

If you support a reduction in single-use plastic bags, then tomorrow is your chance to show it at the state Capitol.

Two bills — HB2260 and SB2511 — are before the state legislature. A public hearing for the bill is scheduled before the Senate in conference room 225 at 2:45 p.m. on Thursday (Feb. 8).

House Bill 2260 would require businesses in the state to collect a fee for single-use checkout bags provided to a customer. Businesses would be allowed to keep 20 percent of the fees for the first year, and 10 percent of fees thereafter, subject to income and general excise taxes.

The Hawaii Food Industry Association, which represents many major supermarkets in Hawaii, actually supports the bill. In the past, the group opposed outright bans of plastic checkout bags which were proposed in bills in previous years. Safeway and Times also wrote letters supporting SB2511.

The Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation are rallying the public for support tomorrow.

Expect to see some 400 plastic and paper bags (the number an average person uses in a year) strewn over the Capitol lawn during a press conference at 1:45 p.m. tomorrow at the Capitol Rotunda.

Diana Sellner, a Girl Scout, and students from elementary schools and universities, will be on hand. The plastic bag monster is also expected to make an appearance.

Earlier this year, Hawaii county became the third in the state to ban plastic checkout bags at businesses. Hawaii county's law goes into effect next year. Maui and Kauai counties have already passed similar laws for about a year. Honolulu is the only remaining county without a plastic bag bill in place.

If the bill passes, it would not revoke existing bans on the neighbor isles.

For updates and more information on the "Bag Bills," visit the Sierra Club's Capitol Watch Opala Blog, Plastic Free Kailua's blog, and Kanu Hawaii's "5 questions (and answers) about plastic bag bills."

Consumer Watchdog challenges Hyundai's 40 MPG claims

February 3rd, 2012
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Is your car's mileage really what it was advertised to be?

Consumer Watchdog has called Hyundai out on its "40 Miles Per Gallon" claim about the Elantra in an ad slated to run during the Super Bowl. Hyundai has pulled the 40 MPG claim but says it was not influenced by Consumer Watchdog.

The group has a counter-advertisement posted on YouTube, noting professional testers at Consumers Union were only able to achieve 29 MPG in combined city and highway tests of the 2011 Elantra, 12 percent below the company's claim of 33 MPG.

Consumer Watcdog has urged the Environmental Protection Agency to re-test the 2011 and 2012 Elantra. Hyundai tested its original MPG tests, the basis for its EPA-certified claim of 50 MPG highway, 29 MPG city and 33 MPG in combined driving.

But real-world reports and professional driving tests report much worse mileage.

Scrutiny over MPG claims is growing after the owner of a Honda Civic hybrid in California won a small-claims court challenge Wednesday on the car's false MPG claims.

"Consumers who increasingly buy cars on the basis of high miles per gallon — then can't get close to the posted figure — are justifiably angry," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. "Hyundai's omission of its touted '40 MPG' claim in its Super Bowl ads, after making a very big deal of it in earlier advertising, shows that the company is hearing the hoofbeats of consumer outrage."

Consumer Watchdog sent a letter Wednesday to Hyundai's U.S. CEO. You can read a copy of the correspondence here.