Archive for April, 2012

Plastic bags and dog poop

April 26th, 2012

Plastic carryout  bags are expected to be banned in Honolulu starting in 2015, if the mayor signs it into law. Star-Advertiser photo.

Plastic carryout bags are expected to be banned in Honolulu starting in 2015, if the mayor signs it into law. Star-Advertiser photo.

Honolulu City Council passed a bill on Wednesday banning nonbiodegradable plastic bags at checkout starting July 1, 2015.

Well, it's about time, given that the neighbor isles (Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island) have already passed plastic bag bans. Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle still has to sign the bill.

So what if there's a plastic bag ban in Honolulu?

The first reaction you get from most folks opposed to the ban is — what am I going to line my wastebaskets with from now on, and from dog owners,  how am I going to pick up my dog's poop? I've had this conversation at the dog park, and there are some owners who are really resolute about their right to a plastic bag just for this very reason.

Finding alternatives to line your wastebasket with is tricky, I'll admit. I do reuse stray plastic bags (that somehow get sneaked into the house) to line the wastebasket.

But for the last two to three years, I've  been bringing my own bags to the grocery store and more and more, to other retail stores as well — or sometimes, simply saying, "No Thanks." I never really understood why you would need a small, plastic bag if you were simply buying a candy bar or bag of potato chips — couldn't you just take the receipt and put it straight into your purse or backpack?

As the owner of a Springer spaniel named Kona — and as the official dog walker in the family — yes, I do have the unglamorous task of picking up her poop. I haven't really found it difficult since switching to reusable bags.

The bag ban would not affect the bags used to package loose fruit, vegetables and nuts, nor does it affect newspaper bags.

We have a newspaper delivered to the door every morning, sometimes in just one bag and sometimes two. These bags actually are the perfect size for picking up dog poop – I find grocery bags to be more unwieldy, with a flyaway effect.

Bread bags also work — every time we go through a loaf of bread, I save the bag and reuse it.  It still probably isn't the greenest choice — maybe someone some day will invent a new way to pick up dog poop.

There's such a plethora of plastic bags in our lives that honestly, it's not a big deal to give up plastic checkout bags. It's nice to get rid of the plastic  bag monster under the sink.

If it came down to it, I suppose using biobags would be a greener option — they do cost money, but they work fine.

Still, the detrimental effects of plastic in the ocean is far greater than the inconvenience. I'm not just talking about choking up turtles — I'm talking about the health of the ocean's ecosystem and in turn, the health of humans who are interconnected with that ecosystem.

Now, we could have considered a fee for plastic and paper checkout bags, which was effective in Washington DC. The bill in the state legislature seeking to place a 10-cent fee on plastic and paper checkout bags stalled this session, though it had the backing of both retailers and environmental groups like the Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club Hawaii.

But really, we can live without plastic (and paper) checkout bags. Just bring your own bag.

The Big Fix: BP oil corruption

April 24th, 2012

Earth Day on Sunday marked the two-year anniversary of the BP oil spill. Two years ago, the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig sank into the Gulf of Mexico, creating the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Two years later, the people and environment are still suffering from the after-effects of the spill. Is the seafood indeed safe to eat? The FDA says so, but the idea of fish with open sores and parasitic infections (which may or may not be from the effects of petroleum, though inconclusive) doesn't sound appetizing.

Now filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell of Green Planet Productions (of "FUEL") expose the root causes of the spill, uncovering "a vast network of corruption" in their documentary film "The Big Fix." Peter Fonda is an executive producer of the official selection for the Festival de Cannes.

Here's a review from the L.A. Times, which says that "The Big Fix" presents a compelling array of damning testimony from EPA officials, journalists, scientists and politicians as well as emotional scenes of distraught residents, a number, like Rebecca Tickell, experiencing troubling physical symptoms in the wake of the disaster." BP chose not to participate in the documentary.

Mint Evemts Hawaii is screening "The Big Fix" at Fresh Cafe, 831 Queen St., on Wednesday, April 25. Doors open at 6 p.m. with free pupus, no-host cocktails and raffle prizes. The  film starts at 7 p.m. and is followed by a discussion at 8:30 p.m.

Cost is $8 if you purchase tickets online at and $10 at the door.

The film will also be shown 7 p.m. on April 25 at The Palace Theater, 38 Haili St. in Hilo  (hosted by Surfrider Foundation, Hilo chapter).

Josh and Rebecca Tickell of Green Planet Productions produced "The Big Fix," digging deep into the story behind the BP oil spill, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Courtesy image.

Josh and Rebecca Tickell of Green Planet Productions produced "The Big Fix," which digs deep into the root causes of the BP oil spill, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Courtesy image.

Make Earth Day every day

April 23rd, 2012

This photo may look kind of artsy in black and white, but it shows typical takeout lunch waste, which includes single-use Styrofoam cups and clamshells and plastic bags (and probably plastic utensils), which take hundreds of years to break down. Our goal should be to reduce this kind of waste by opting out of the bag, bringing your own cup and utensils and choosing alternatives to Styrofoam. Photo taken at Restaurant Row by Nina Wu.

Here's the typical weekday takeout lunch waste in a trash can at Restaurant Row, which includes single-use Styrofoam cups and clamshells and plastic bags (and plastic utensils). Lunch probably took about 30 minutes, but these will take 100s of years to break down. Surely we can reduce this with a few simple lifestyle changes. Photo by Nina Wu.

Here are 7 more personal lifestyle changes you can take to make Earth Day every day.

1. >> Plant native. Go for native plants in your front or backyard. Contrary to what most people may think, native plants are not tropical plants like birds of paradise, ginger or heliconia. There are plenty of native plants to choose from, whether pohuehue or pohinahina for ground cover, the fragrant na‘u (gardenia) or several kinds of kokio (native hibiscus) to add color to your landscape. Naupaka also makes a nice hedge. Hui Ku Maoli Ola sells native plants at various events and Home Depot, which is a good place to get started. Visit their online catalog for a list.

2. >> BYOU. Bring your own utensils. This is one of my own personal goals because I usually buy lunch on work weekdays and oftentimes end up with the single-use plastic forks, knives and spoons that they give you for takeout. You can either bring your own silverware from home and wash it, or buy a cool, portable bamboo set to reuse.

3. >> Compost. Whether it's a worm compost, pile compost or bokashi bucket, you would be doing the earth a favor by letting food waste break back down into what nature intended — soil. You'll also be doing your garden a favor. To learn more about the bokashi bucket, visit

4. >> Avoid Styrofoam. Sunetric recently launched a "no Styrofoam" campaign and is acknowledging restaurants like Duke's that do the same. Styrofoam, or Polystyrene foam, takes hundreds of years to break down, cannot be recycled and is toxic to marine life. Unfortunately, you will still see a lot of Styrofoam when you buy coffee or takeout lunch. Try to request an alternative if possible or patronize places that opt not to use Styrofoam.

5. >> Recycle bottle caps. While we can throw plastic water bottles and plastic soft drink bottles into the blue bin for recycling, or redeem them for 5-cents each, there's no money for plastic caps. Yet they, too, can be recycled. Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii (B.E.A.C.H.) is collecting plastic caps and lids from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 5, at Ahuimanu Elementary School, 47-470 Hui Aeko Place in Kaneohe and from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Kaimuki Middle School, 631 18th Ave. on Saturday, May 12. Visit the non-profit's website to learn more about which caps and lids can be recycled.

6.>> Clean green. Choose biodegradable, plant-based cleansers and detergents to wash your dishes, toilet and bathtub with. Many of these alternatives (which don't include harsh chemicals like chlorine or ammonia) are now available — brands include Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyers, Ecover and Method. My favorite dishwashing liquid is Eco's Ultra Dishmate, pear, though I also use Ecover sometimes. This link from lists the top 10 natural cleaning brands. Look for the Green Seal. You can also make your own cleansers at home using baking soda, vinegar and water.

7.>> Buy recycled products. As a consumer, choose recycled products, whether it be post-consumer recycled paper towels (available at Costco, by the way) or office paper. You can also buy gently used items instead of brand-new products at your local garage sale, places like Reuse Hawaii (lumber, hardware and construction materials) and on

Earth Day 2012 is Sunday

April 19th, 2012

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii organizes beach cleanups that have mobilized many volunteers. They will host one of the largest beach cleanups on Earth Day 2012. Courtesy photo.

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii is organizing a large-scale cleanup of the coastline, from Makapu‘u to Kaupo Bay on Earth Day (Sunday, April 22). Volunteers are then invited to a special event including educational booths, games and music at Sea Life Park for a $5 entrance fee. Courtesy Photo.

Earth Day is Sunday, April 22.

What are you doing for Earth Day? Well, it turns out there are a couple of Earth Day events, starting today.

>> UH Manoa Earth Day. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today (Thursday, April 19), the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Ecology Club is hosting workshops, music and community groups along the  Legacy Pathway outside the campus's Environmental Center. From 11:30 to noon there will be a water catchment workshop, followed by composting from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. and organic gardening from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Chat with non-profit groups and community groups like the Surfrider Foundation, Sustainable UH, Hui o Ko‘olaupoko and Each One Teach One Farms. Solar companies, including Hawaiian Island Solar and Haleakala Solar, will also be on hand.

>> Party for the Planet: Honolulu Zoo celebrates Earth Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 21 and Sunday April 22. On Saturday, there will be hands on recycling in the zoo's volunteer garden, zoo animal talks and animal biofacts. On Sunday, there will be demonstration stations on worm composting, educational games and crafts from the Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative, OISC and the Honolulu Zoo Society. Juice and ice cream for kids will also be available, courtesy of Meadow Gold Ice Cream. Visit or call 926-3191 for more information.

>> Earth Day e-Waste: Pacific Corporate Solutions is collecting e-waste from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 21. Drop off your computers, monitors, laptops, printers, fax machines, servers and telecom equipment at Kahala Mall (parking lot along Kilauea Ave.), Kapolei Shopping Center (Safeway parking lot) and Central Middle School (1302 Queen Emma St.). On Saturday, April 28, e-waste will be collected from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Kaiser High School. All brands are accepted, but no TVs, microwaves or alkaline batteries, please. Visit for more info.

>> Earth Day Beach Cleanup: Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii calls on volunteers of all ages to help with a large-scale cleanup of the coastal area from Makapu‘u to Kaupo Bay on Sunday, April 22 (Earth Day). A large amount of marine debris washed up on the shoreline due to recent strong tradewinds. Volunteers check in at Makapu‘u at 9:30 a.m. where they will be organized into teams and assigned specific zones to clean. The debris will be categorized and quantified and reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Gloves, trash bags, sunscreen and water will be provided.

From noon to 5 p.m., volunteers are invited to visit Sea Life Park for a $5 entrance fee. The general public can also get a discounted entrance fee of $15 for adults and $10 for juniors (ages 3 to 12) with an empty Cocoa Cola product to be recycled.

There will be live music, games, face painting, educational displays, a raffle for prizes and guest speakers including Carey Morishige, Pacific Islands regional coordinator of the NOAA Marine Debris program. Enjoy  music by the Honoka‘a Jazz Band at noon, as well as Mike Love and Paula Fuga.

>> Juice Mob: From 7 a.m. till noon on Sunday (Earth Day, April 22) Lanikai Juice at Kahala (4346 Waialae Ave.) is hosting a "Juice Mob." Proceeds will help students at Kahala Elementary School build a garden growing fresh fruits and vegetables.

>> Picnic for the Planet: The Nature Conservancy is attempting to set a Guinness world record for organizing the world's largest and most delicious Earth Day celebration by asking people to attend, host or donate to a picnic. Anyone can participate. Visit for more info. In Honolulu, The Nature Conservancy is organizing a picnic lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday (April 22) at He‘eia Pier Deli (46-499 Kamehameha Highway in Kaneohe). Meet at the banner.

>> "The Big Fix": See a screening of "The Big Fix," a film by Josh and Rebecca Tickell of Green Planet Productions which examines the aftermath of the BP oil spill in the gulf (two years later) from 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, April 25 at Fresh Cafe in Kakaako (831 Queen St.). Cost is $8 online (available at or $10 at the door. See a trailer here.

Blue Planet's "I Ride Campaign" will thank bicyclists for riding a bike. Courtesy image.

Blue Planet's "I Ride Campaign" will thank bicyclists for riding a bike. Courtesy image.

>> I Ride Campaign. Throughout the month of April, the Blue Planet Foundation is going to tag bikes with a handmade thank you card, thanking bikers for reducing fossil fuel consumption. McCully Bicycle is donating 15 Duravision Pro LED safety lights to some of these bikers.Visit for more information.

>> Grow Hawaiian Festival. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, the Hawaiian Electric Co. presents the 5th annual Grow Hawaiian Festival at Bishop Museum. There will be keiki games, a native plant sale from Hui Ku Maoli Ola, advice from master gardeners, Hawaiian craft demonstrations, a special guest presentation by Sig Zane, live music, hula and information about energy conservation. Visit

>> Keiki Earth Day: Baby Awearness at Manoa Marketplace hosts Keiki Earth Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 28. Sing with Uncle Wayne, tour a mini farmers market, make smoothies and participate in make-and-take craft activities. Learn about cloth diapering and baby wearing techniques. Purchases on this special day are 10 percent off, while Baby Awearness Xchange purchases are 25 percent off.

Time to go solar

April 2nd, 2012

There's this Hawaiian Electric Co. commercial that ran at the start of the year, as part of a series of ads aiming to educate the public (and paid for with shareholder funds).

No, not the one where Jade Moon interviews HECO executive Robbie Alm. It's the one where Jade Moon interviews two HECO representatives — Ka‘iulani De Silva from education and consumer affairs and Blaine Cacho, an account manager.

The script goes something like this.

Jade Moon: "Does conservation really work?"

Ka‘iulani De Silva (smiling sympathetically): "We know high electricity costs are frustrating for our customers. But simple steps can amount to surprising savings."

"That's right," chimes in Blaine Cacho, matter-of-factly. "If you turn off the air-conditioner and let the tradewinds cool your home, you can save more than $1,000 a year."

While watching this commercial or whatever you call it, I found myself talking to the TV. "But we don't have any air-conditioning in this house! Not even a window unit!" I said.

Summers are sweltering in our house. We turn on fans and desperately open up all of the windows, wishing the tradewinds would flow through the house (if only it was built with the windows facing the right direction). The best solution seems to be an escape to the beach.

Our electricity bill currently averages about $200 a month, which is about $50 higher than it was a few years ago (along with everybody else's).

Then Jade asks Blaine about a second refrigerator and he says if it's a really old model, it could be using up plenty of energy. Removing it, he says, could also save you more than $1,000 a year.

"But we don't have a second fridge!" I said. We only have one fridge. It isn't fancy, but it's not one of the old models, either.

The HECO representatives, with pleasant, wanting-to-help smiles, dole out more tips. Washing your laundry in cold water can save more than $800 a year, adds De Silva.

"But we already wash in cold water!" I told the folks on T.V. "We've been doing that for years."

So seriously, what more can we do? HECO has a whole slew of publications with more energy-saving tips which you can find by clicking on "Energy Savings Toolkit." You have the "Power to Save" pamphlet as well as the "101 Ways to Save" brochure and the "Energy Tips & Choices" booklet. HECO does do a good job of putting out all these education pamphlets.

Still, our bill hasn't gone down much lately.

Did I mention that we already have a solar water heater and that we line-dry, too? Well, most of the time. On rainy days, we do resort to the dryer.

Lately, I've been walking around the house, flipping off the lights (yes, powered by energy-efficient compact fluorescents, mind you) and switching off various power strips at night, too. I bought an energy-saving "smart" power strip which keeps the DVD player from sucking out energy when it's not in use.

Since 2010, monthly bills have risen by 50 percent, says Alm, almost all of it due to oil. In the wake of the tsunami in Japan, oil has largely replaced nuclear energy, causing prices in the Asia Pacific region to skyrocket.

The cost of electricity is only going one way – up. You know what I think? I think it's time to go solar. The federal and state tax credits are still available, and there's still enough room in plenty of neighborhoods without HECO's concerns about destabilizing their circuits.

Do you know how much solar PV there is on your street? You can look it up on this map.

Stay tuned.

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