Archive for June, 2014

NRDC's annual beach report

June 25th, 2014


The Natural Resources Defense Council's annual report on clean water at beaches across the U.S. is out. Hawaii had two that ranked among the 35 "superstars." Photo by Nina Wu.

The Natural Resources Defense Council's annual report on clean water at beaches across the U.S. is out, Hawaii had two that ranked among the 35 "superstars" for water quality, but water pollution continues to be a problem in Hawaii and nationwide. Photos by Nina Wu.

First, the good news.

Two Hawaii  beaches – Hapuna Beach State Park on the Big Island and Po‘ipu Beach Park on Kauai —  made it to the Natural Resource Defense Council's list of 35 "superstar" beaches for consistently meeting water quality safety thresholds.

Now, the bad news.

Serious water pollution continues to be a problem at many  U.S. seashores, with massive stormwater runoff and sewage overflows being the largest known sources.

Ten percent of all water quality samples collected last year from 3,500 coastal and Great Lakes beaches in the U.S. contained bacteria levels that failed to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's most protective benchmark for swimmer safety. So contamination levels at the nation's beaches remain essentially unchanged from last year.

Hawaii ranked No. 8  (out of 30), with samples exceeding the benchmark by seven percent in 2013. Want to know which beaches had the highest percent exceedance rates of the Beach Action Value (BAV) of 60 enterococcus bacteria colony forming units per 100 ml marine water in a single sample?

Waimea recreation Pier State Park (44 percent), Hanalei Beach Park (34 percent) and Lumaha‘i Beach (33 percent) on Kauai; Analani Pond (30 percent) on the Big Island; and Kahanamoku Beach in Honolulu (36 percent).

Hey! Wasn't Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki (the one near Hilton Hawaiian Village) recently ranked No. 1 by Dr. Beach? Go figure.

Now, the seven percent exceedance rate is actually an increase, the highest level to date, in the past five years, which generally hovered between 3 and 4 percent.

We all know that sewage overspill is a major problem at some of our most beautiful windward and North Shore beaches, and continue to be a problem. When the water's brown, stay out. The state department of health is hopefully posting warnings and advisories on a regular basis.

There are also 17 repeat offenders at beaches from California to New York that exhibit chronic water pollution problems. Luckily, none of those beaches were in Hawaii.

“Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water should never ruin a family beach trip,” said NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine. “But no matter where you live, urban slobber and other pollution can seriously compromise the water quality at your favorite beach and make your family sick. To help keep us healthy at the beach and stem the tide of water pollution, our government leaders can finalize a critical proposal – the Clean Water Protection Rule – to restore vital protections for the streams and wetlands that help sustain clean beaches.”

The results and full report are available in the NRDC's annual "Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches."

You can also find your zip code on a searchable map at


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Put Solar On It

June 20th, 2014


RevoluSun recently installed the second phase of a 392.5 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on Kauai's Wilcox Memorial Hospital. Courtesy image.

RevoluSun recently installed the second phase of a 392.5 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on Kauai's Wilcox Memorial Hospital. Courtesy image.

Get ready, get sun — and put solar on it.

Celebrate solar power this weekend with the rest of the U.S. as part of the "Put Solar on It" campaign on Saturday, June 21, the summer solstice (longest day of the year). Cities across the U.S. are offering solar-related events.

The campaign is led by actor Mark Ruffalo, which asks the public to commit to putting solar on a building — whether it be your home, your school, place of worship or business. In return, Mosaic, the company known for crowdfunding solar panel projects across the country, will offer you the tools to make the project happen. Ruffalo has committed to putting solar on his children's elementary school this year.

Solar just makes so much sense in Hawaii, which has set a goal of achieving 70 percent clean energy by 2030 as part of our Clean Energy Initiative. Hawaii has made some recent headway towards making this goal a reality.

Renewable Funding, based in Oakland, Calif. was recently selected to develop and manage Hawaii's "Green Energy Market Securitization" (GEMS) program, with the goal of opening the door to underserved markets.

GEMS will use $150 million in low-cost bond market funds in combination with other sources of private capital to finance the upfront cost of solar PV systems for thousands of residents and businesses in Hawaii. Financing is expected to begin in late 2014.

"The GEMS approach is a game changer — it allows residents and businesses to install clean energy improvements using the same kind of financing that had previously only been available for utility-scale facilities," said Renewable Funding CEO Cisco DeVries (also the founder of PACE). "We applaud Gov. Abercrombie, the Public Utilities Commission and the State Legislature for taking this ambitious step to expand the availability of clean energy in Hawaii."

The Blue Planet Foundation also launched Wefficiency to help non-profits obtain funds needed to become more energy-efficient, through crowdfunding.

A list of Top Community Places in Hawaii listed in the Put Solar On It campaign at include St. Andrews Priory, Aiea Public Library, Waipahu Intermediate School, Soto Academy and ‘Iolani School. You can vote to support any of these places online.

Solar has so much more potential in Hawaii.

Wilcox Memorial Hospital on Kauai recently announced the installation of a new photovoltaic (PV) system that should save it about $217,000 a year in energy costs, and $7.6 million over the life of the system.

As for me, I'll be looking up at the sun on Saturday, smiling...

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Beach cleanup: International Surfing Day

June 18th, 2014

International Surf Day 2014. Free computer desktop wall paper. Courtesy image.

International Surf Day 2014. Free computer desktop wall paper. Courtesy image.

If you surf, or appreciate surfing and all the ocean has to offer, then put  beach cleanup day on your calendar the morning of Saturday, June 21, at Point Panic in Kakaako in celebration of International Surfing Day.

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, in partnership with the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, Malama Point Panic, Surfrider Foundation Oahu Chapter and BAMP Project host the annual South Shore cleanup Saturday. The public is invited to meet at 9:30 a.m. at Point Panic, Kakaako Park.

Surfrider Foundation will also be hosting beach cleanups in partnership with First Hawaiian Bank from 9:30  to 11:30 a.m. at Kaimana (Sans Souci), Queen's Surf, Kahala and Diamond Head beach parks. Volunteers, including more than 250 First Hawaiian Bank Community Care volunteers will be sifting sand for microplastic and extracting trash and debris.

Surfrider volunteers should check in at 9 a.m. at Diamond Head Beach Park; First Hawaiian Bank volunteers at Kapiolani Park. Lunch, prizes and entertainment will follow from noon to 1 p.m. at Kapiolani Park. Look for yellow banners. Check out Surfrider's My Special Place contest on Instagram.

In Kakaako, crew members from the three non-profit organizations will guide volunteers in cleaning the coastline at designated zones and surrounding areas. Following the cleanup at noon, participants are invited to attend an after-cleanup pa‘ina with live music by Paul Izak at Point Panic.

Hula Grill os offering plastic-free, zero-waste lunches while supplies last. Volunteers will have the opportunity to win several prizes provided by the BAMP Project and others, including tickets to the upcoming Jack Johnson concert.

Educational booths will also be set up to feature topics related to ocean health, marine debris and single-use plastics.


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One by one, Hawaiian monk seals

June 17th, 2014

Every day, dedicated scientists and volunteers are working to save endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

Most recently, Monk Seal Foundation volunteers, NOAA staff and a fisherman helped catch RN58, or Luana on Oahu, to get a hook out of her throat. A vet team managed to get the hook out, and Luana was released June 12.

Now there's a documentary film, "One by One: The Struggle to Save Hawaiian Monk Seals" to tell the story about these kinds of efforts as well as to educate the public about monk seals, in the works. An indiegogo campaign seeks to raise $30,000 by Aug. 15.

Filmmakers Andrew and Robin Eitelberg, a husband-and-wife team that studied film at UC Berkeley,  have been working with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program. The film has been in the works for more than a year, but needs additional funding to be completed. Contributions go toward video and audio equipment, travel, editing, graphics and animation and film festival submission fees.

Fewer than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals remain, with their numbers in decline.

Hawaiian monk seal snoozing. Courtesy One by One,

Hawaiian monk seal snoozing. Courtesy One by One,

To put it into perspective, there are more sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco (though they mysteriously disappeared for a few years) than Hawaiian monk seals in the world. The Eitelbergs say today, one of the monk seals' biggest threats is lack of awareness.

"This species is completely native to Hawaii, and one of a kind. It witnessed the Hawaiian islands rising from the ocean and has been a symbol of Hawaii’s diverse ecosystem for millions of years–and many people still have no idea that it exists. Unless the world is made aware of these seals and the brave efforts to protect them, they will slip quietly into extinction. We can’t hope that someone else will step in and turn this around: it’s up to us, and time is running out."

>> Pledge $25 or more and receive an HD download of "One by One."

>> Pledge $50 or more and download "Sounds of Hawaii," an album of mesmerizing MP3 audio portraits of Hawaii's  natural beauty.

>> Pledge $100 ore more and receive a One by One T-shirt to help spread the word about the Hawaiian monk seal, plus a download of the documentary and soundscapes, and your name on One by One's website. The first 20 donors at this level get a bonus of a signed copy of Makana's latest album.

>> Pledge $250 or more, and receive a limited edition 5x7 Monk Seal Photo Print plus a download of the documentary and soundscapes. And your name on the website.

>> Pledge $2,500 and shadow a monk seal responder on Oahu, plus get a family pass to the Waikiki Aquarium, 2 T-shirts, download of the film and soundscapes plus your name in the credits.

You can also offer room and board, transportation, your talents as a graphic designer. Email

Polystyrene foam happy?

June 13th, 2014

Polystyrene foam takeout boxes are common for plate lunches in Honolulu. We pretty much take them for granted, but Honolulu City Council recently proposed a ban on them due to health and environmental concerns. Is it ironic that they come with a happy face? Photo by Nina Wu.

Polystyrene foam takeout boxes are common for plate lunches in Honolulu. We pretty much take them for granted, but Honolulu City Council recently proposed a ban on them due to health and environmental concerns. Is it ironic that they come with a happy face? Photo by Nina Wu.

In my last Green Leaf column, I talked about Honolulu City Council's proposed ban of polystyrene foam takeout boxes (Bill 40). Thanks to those of you that emailed and called in with your suggestions of how to avoid them — bring your own food containers, choose restaurants that offer alternatives and, one caller emphasized, make sure people know not to microwave food in them.

Our unscientific poll of 1,490 readers found that slightly more people (53 percent) do not think polystyrene foam clamshells, commonly used for takeout food, should be banned on Oahu because of environmental concerns, while 47 percent voted yes.

So what's the big deal about polystyrene foam?

Well, let's take a look first of all at styrene, which is found in polystyrene foam. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, styrene is widely used to make plastics and rubber, such as insulation, food containers and carpet backing. It's "reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen." The International Agency for Research on Cancer has also determined that styrene is a possible human carcinogen. Here's a handy fact sheet from the ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry).

That doesn't sound too comforting to me, but really, I guess it's a consumer's choice.

In a recent "Island Voices,"  representatives of the Hawaii Food Industry Association, Hawaii Restaurant Association and Hawaii Food Manufacturers Association, say that polystyrene food containers have met stringent FDA standards and that a  ban would only increase the cost of doing business (read increase cost to consumers) when paper products and even compostable products end up at H-Power, anyways.

To be honest with you, most of us are more interested in what we're getting for lunch than what it comes  in. When getting lunch, we consider  what we're getting to eat, and for what price.

But as consumers, we can also make choices, too. I take note when an eatery offers alternatives.

I like to be on the safer side, when possible, considering that close family members of mine have been diagnosed with cancer. I wish I could take it for granted that the FDA makes sure what we eat and drink is safe, but they don't have a very good track record, so far, in my opinion.

The jury's still out on Bisphenol A, according to the FDA. Canada and Europe have banned it in children's products. While it's being debated, U.S. consumers, meanwhile,  are seeking BPA-free children's products and it seems as if retailers are trying to meet that demand. The European Union and Canada go with the "banned until proven innocent" approach while the EPA goes with the innocent until proven harmful approach. Which would you rather take?

I do have sympathy for small businesses and mom-and-pops facing increased costs. After all, you have to serve take-out food in some sort of container. Polystyrene foam almost seems synonymous with our plate lunch culture (read, "Cheap Eats"), but maybe we need to ask ourselves, what's the long-term cost to the environment and health in Hawaii?

Manufacturers of polystyrene foam have launched, claiming there is no harm to microwaving food in foam. But the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit in Washington D.C., recommends microwaving food in glass as a better choice over any plastic containers in its Healthy Home Tips.

At beach cleanups, little pieces of styrene foam floating around are also a pain to pick up, and we definitely don't want them being consumed by marine mammals or ending up in our ocean ecosystem. EPS foam is one of the top five items found during beach cleanups, according to Kahi Pacarro, executive director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.

Polystyrene (No. 6) can be recycled, but the fact is that it's not being recycled in Hawaii. Only No. 1 and No. 2 plastics are being accepted by the city of Honolulu's blue bins for curbside pickup.

There's a MoveOn petition if you agree that polystyrene foam food containers should be banned in Honolulu.

Honolulu is not the first to introduce a proposed polystyrene ban — Maui County did so in 2009, though it did not pass. The folks in Kilauea, Kauai, have made it clear that's what they want. More than 70 jurisdictions in California already have the ban in place, including Berkeley, Calif. in 1988. New York City may be next, with its ban set to go into effect July 2015.

Here are some businesses that have taken note over the concerns over polystyrene foam:

>> Kudos to McDonald's for deciding to no longer use polystyrene packaging for beverages, which it will replace with paper cups instead. It was, perhaps, a response to consumer concerns. In his testimony on Bill 40, Victor Lim of McDonald's of Hawaii said polystyrene is only in its coffee cups and breakfast platter bases, but these are scheduled to be replaced in the near future.

>> A number of Honolulu restaurants have voluntarily made the switch, including Duke's Waikiki, Hula Grill Waikiki, Morning Brew, La Tour Cafe and others. Snackbox in Kakaako is offering salads and drinks in mason jars, with a discount if you bring it back. If you know of other restaurants that have gone foam-free, let me know. I'll list them here.

>> It's easy enough to bring your own reusable mug or cup to places like Starbucks, but there aren't a lot of folks who would bring their own food takeout containers. At least one place, Sweet Home Waimanalo, offers a discount to those who do.



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Free pilot energy program

June 4th, 2014

Hawaii Energy and People Power are looking for 600 Oahu residents to test out its home energy management system for a year. For free. Courtesy image.

Hawaii Energy and People Power are looking for 600 Oahu residents to test out its home energy management system for a year. For free. Courtesy image.

Ouch. The Hawaiian Electric Co. is raising everyone's monthly bill by an average of $4.89 as part of a "decoupling" move. It won't matter whether you used more or less for the month — everyone is going to have to foot that extra fee. That's the bad news.

But there's some good news.

There's a cool technology being offered by Hawaii Energy (a ratepayer-funded conservation and efficiency program) in partnership with a Palo Alto, Calif.-based tech company called People Power. And they're offering it for up to 600 Oahu residents, for free.

That's right. Free.

There's not much you can get for free any more these days. People Power is looking for 600 Oahu residents to test out a home energy management system for a year, which can potentially save participants as much as 20 percent on their electric bill. The system comes with a mobile app — called Presence (which turns iOS devices into remotely monitored video cameras) — and Monster Central smart plugs. They're valued at about $300 or more.

By the end of the program, participants get to keep the Presence Pro Energy kit.

But there are only about half of the spaces left, and you do need to qualify.

To qualify, you need a smartphone or tablet, a home WiFi connection with an available port on your Wireless Internet router. You can still qualify even if you have solar water or solar PV.

Sign up at

Posted in Energy | 1 Comment »

World Oceans Day at Honolulu Museum

June 3rd, 2014

med_logoWorld Oceans Day is Sunday, June 8.

World Oceans Day was conceived in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and born following the passage of a United Nations General Assembly resolution in 2008. For those of us who live in Hawaii, surrounded by ocean, the day should have more than a passing significance.

This year, the Honolulu Museum of Art is teaming up with PangeaSeed to present World Oceans Day Hawai‘i — a multimedia event from June 6 to 12 connecting local marine conservationists with filmmakers, scientists and ocean enthusiasts. The Conservation Council for Hawai‘i presents the sea keiki fun zone 9:30 a.m. June 8 at Doris Duke Theatre for kids ages 7 to 11.

There will  be art exhibits, Sleep with the Fishes: Kozyndan and Olek (June 6 to 12, Honolulu Museum of Art School), as well as a film festival exploring the ocean depths, conservation issues and all the life in it, followed by panel discussions.


Check out "Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe a la Hache," "Sushi: The Global Catch," "Revolution" (see trailer above), "Shadow Reef," "Sustainable by Design: Volcom Pipe Pro 2013+2014," "Malama Maunalua, "Mantas Last Dance," "Plastic Paradise" and  "Extinction Soup," among many others.

For updates, visit World Oceans Day Hawaii on Facebook.


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