Author Archive

Hoarding plastic bags

October 1st, 2014
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Plastic bag caught in the fence near Kakaako Waterfront Park. Photo by Nina Wu.

Plastic bag caught in the fence near Kakaako Waterfront Park. Photo by Nina Wu.

So, now it's official.

Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell signed Bill 38 into law on Thursday, Sept. 25, which would ban retailers from distributing plastic carryout bags — including biodegradable  bags — starting July 1, 2015.

Oahu follows Maui, Kauai and the Big Island in banning plastic  bags at checkout. But California, not Hawaii, became the first state to ban plastic bags yesterday.

In the first version of the bill, biodegradable bags would have been exempted, until environmentalists pointed out they can be just as damaging in the ocean. Compostable bags that meet the standards of ASTM International are allowed.

The bag ban, though not perfect, is great news for our environment. It's going to be an adjustment for folks who take plastic bags for granted.

In our recent Big Q poll,  the majority of readers (346) said they plan to start hoarding plastic takeout bags in response to the news. I imagine some began hoarding as soon as they heard Honolulu was considering a ban.

How will you prepare for Oahu’s plastic-bag ban at stores, to be effective July 1?

  • B. Start hoarding plastic bags (49%, 346 Votes)
  • A. Start using recyclable bags (33%, 231 Votes)
  • C. Already stopped using plastic (18%, 123 Votes) 

It cracks me up because I know people like that — people like my mom, who believe if something's free, then take it. At the checkout at Marukai, I remember watching an elderly Japanese lady at a packing table by the exit, meticulously wrapping each purchase, big and small, in a separate plastic bag.

Why would you hoard plastic bags? So you can have a lifetime supply without ever having to purchase any plastic bags for your wastebaskets?

On the other hand, too many plastic bags do come with a cost – an overhead cost that businesses pass on to consumers for the convenience and a high environmental cost to this beautiful paradise we live in. On average, one shopper uses 500 bags in one year. Plastic bags are choking up our waterways, breaking into chemical-laden pieces in our oceans. They offer short-term convenience, but long-term consequences. Burning them at H-power is not the answer (not for the health of the air we breathe in).

Reducing them is part of the solution. That's what this law will do.

I've been bringing my own bags to the store for several years now, and believe me, life is still fine. Our home isn't completely plastic bag-free yet, due to visitors and other household members who sometimes bring them in. But there's just a small cluster, (which yes, I line my wastebaskets with), compared to a large monster ball beneath the kitchen sink. You start to discover that you don't need so many, certainly not that huge monster ball amount.

Here are some ideas on how we can use fewer plastic bags:

>> Consolidate. So maybe we don't need so many small, plastic bags. On trash day, dump the contents of your wastebasket into the larger trash bag before taking it out. Reduce the number of bags you use. When you have mostly dry waste, this isn't a big deal. Wet waste is tougher.

>> Compost. You can reduce trash by composting food waste - vegetable peelings, apple cores, leftover pasta and bread, and put it back into your garden.

>> Reuse. Think of the other plastic bags that we get which are still available. Get creative. Bread bags, newspaper bags, sack of potato bags.  Bread bags and newspaper bags work just fine for picking up dog poop, another common complaint about the ban of plastic grocery bags.

>> Recycle. Are there things that you throw out in the trash which can actually be recycled? Remember, No. 1 and 2 plastics go in the blue bin. That includes pretty much all shampoo bottles, laundry detergent bottles, etc., as well as glass jelly  jars, newspapers, corrugated cardboard pizza boxes, etc.

>> BYOB. Bring your own bags to the store - keep a dozen in your car, and at least one or two of the Chicobag, Envirosax or Baggu kind (that fold up small) in your purse or backpack. I like the large, square-bottomed and insulated ones I got for supporting PBS Hawaii. I also love the ones from Trader Joe's. Or, try the Costco method and keep an empty cardboard box in the car. I'm hoping people will be encouraged to bring their own bags instead of collecting piles of paper bags at home.

And when you have no choice but to use a bag for your wastebasket, there are alternatives out there like Biobags, which are compostable. Just don't let them get into the ocean.

Plastic bag monster sculpture created by the Shanghai chapter of Jane Goodall Institute's Roots & Shoots. From youbentmywookie.com.

Plastic bag monster sculpture created by the Shanghai chapter of Jane Goodall Institute's Roots & Shoots. From youbentmywookie.com.

Posted in Plastic | 1 Comment »

Window A/C rebates

September 25th, 2014
By



 

WindowAC

Summer's officially over, but if you're still trying to cool your heels in the isles, Hawaii Energy is offering $50 rebates for anyone who trades up to an EnergyStar-rated window air conditioner.

Hawaii Energy, a ratepayer-funded energy conservation and efficiency program, is offering a $50 rebate for individuals who swap out an old working unit for a more energy efficient one. They're available on a first-come, first-served basis, but the perk is free pick-up and haul-away of the old A/C unit.

The rebates are available on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, but not Lanai or Molokai (sorry, folks).

To qualify, your unit must be EnergyStar rated and have an energy efficiency ratio of 10.8 or higher.

It's easy.

1. Pick up an application at the time of purchase of an EnergyStar A/C unit from participating retailers, including Lowe's, Sears, NEX, Home Depot and City Mill.

2. Schedule a pick-up of your old A/C unit for recycling by calling 537-5577 or (877) 231-8222.

3. Send your completed rebate application and original receipt via snail mail to Hawaii Energy, P.O. Box 3920, Honolulu, HI 96812. The rebate should arrive in the mail in eight to 10 weeks.

The switch could save you about $80 per year on your electric bill (though savings vary depending on the make, model and usage of your window A/C unit).

If you're getting a split-air A/C system, there are $150 rebates available for variable refrigerant flow air conditioners up to 24,000 BTU, and $250 rebates for units from 24,001 to 36,000 BTU. They must have a minimum SEER rating of 16.

Questions? See if the answer is in the FAQ list.

 

About those fire ants

September 10th, 2014
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So the last we heard, the invasive Little Fire Ants were in Mililani Mauka.

But keep your guard up, because who knows where they'll turn up next?

They might turn up in your neighborhood. When they were discovered in Waimanalo during the summer, only Waimanalo folks were concerned. As of now, the samples coming in (about 10 per week) are from Mililani. It's possible they may have gone undetected in Mililani for a few years.

The Little Fire Ants, originally from South America, not only deliver a painful sting, but can blind animals and reduce biodiversity. If these ants become established in Hawaii, they would be Hawaii's most devastating pest. Nesting seabirds and sea turtle hatchlings are also under threat. We do not want these to be established on our island. Small populations can still be eradicated if detected early enough.

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Not to be confused with the tropical fire ant, the Little Fire Ant is half the size (one-sixtheenth of an inch or about as long as the width of a penny). For more information, visit lfa-hawaii.org.

The Little Fire Ants were first discovered in Puna in 1999 and have since spread, hidden in plants, logs, green waste, gravel and sometimes, even cars. In December 2013, they were discovered in hapuu logs at nurseries and garden shops on Oahu and Maui, and in landscaping on Lanai. Most of the hapuu sold to the public remain unaccounted for.

What can you do about it?

Test your home and yard. You can do this by placing a thin smear of peanut butter on disposable chopsticks - place them every few feet in and around plants in your yard, garden and lanai. Focus on shady, moist areas, bottoms of pots and where plants' leaves meet the stem. Leave the sticks in place for one hour during the cool part of the day. Check the sticks without moving them, and collect if:

>> Ants are uniformly orange/red and very small.

>> If you're unsure about the ants.

As of right now, the Department of Agriculture is responding to every sample sent in. Better to have plenty of samples that turn out not to be Little Fire Ants than to miss opportunities to detect and eradicate them. We need to remain vigilant.

Place the ants directly into a zipock bag, seal, label with your name, address and phone number and freeze overnight. Here's a link to a brochure and video for further instructions.

Immediately report any suspected LFA to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture hotline 643-PEST.

Invasive: Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle

September 9th, 2014
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The coconut rhinoceros beetle could potentially destroy Waikiki's coconut palms, changing its landscape forever. It's already been detected at Joint base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Not to be confused with other beetles also found in Hawaii. Photo of Department of Agriculture display by Nina Wu.

The coconut rhinoceros beetle could potentially destroy Waikiki's coconut palms, changing its landscape forever. It's already been detected at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Not to be confused with other beetles also found in Hawaii. Photo of Department of Agriculture display by Nina Wu.

Watch out for the coconut rhinoceros beetle!

The invasive beetle was first detected Dec. 23, 2013 on coconut trees at a golf course at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Now the U.S. Navy is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, University of Hawaii at Manoa and Hawaii Department of Agriculture to monitor, trap and control them. Some 56 palms were removed at the base.

The beetles have also been detected at Barbers Point and Campbell Industrial Park.

If you've seen these lantern-like things hanging from trees around Oahu, those are coconut rhino beetle traps set out by the state Department of Agriculture. You can find a map of all Coconut Rhino Beetle monitoring efforts and activities here.

CRB-Pic

The large scarab beetle is native to Southeast Asia, was accidentally introduced from Sri Lanka to Samoa in 1909 and is now distributed throughout the South Pacific. The coconut rhinoceros beetle (CRB) is one of the most damaging pests for coconut palms, as well as for Hawaii's native, endangered loulu palms.

How did they get to Hawaii? We still don't know.

It is dark brown and measures 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 inches long. The larvae are white with a brown head. It can often be confused with other beetles present in Hawaii, including the Oriental flower beetle and mango flower beetle (both a little smaller). The largest beetle in the world, by the way, is the Goliath beetle (not in Hawaii, thankfully) which can weight 100 grams and grow to 20 centimeters long.

When looking for places to pupate (transforming from larvae to adult), the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle looks for a quiet, dark place, whether it be in someone's garage or laundry room, according to Rob Curtiss, acting state plant pest control branch manager. Adult rhino beetles are also active at night and can fly (shudder).

The beetles bore into the center of a palm tree's crown to feed on sap, cutting through developing leaves and causing damage to the fronds. Affected fronds grow with distinctive, V-shaped cuts.

If you suspect the presence of Coconut Rhinoceros Beetles on coconut and palms, report it to the PEST hotline, 643-PEST. Do not move potentially affected mulch or trimmings. If you see a dislodged CRB trap you can report it to a hotline, 832-0585 or email stoprhino@gmail.com.

The infamous albizia

September 8th, 2014
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A fallen Albizia tree in Hilo. Star-Advertiser file photo/ August 2013.

A fallen Albizia tree in Hilo. Star-Advertiser file photo/ August 2013.

By now, the albizia tree (Falcataria moluccana) has taken center stage in the list of invasive species the public is aware of and interested in eradicating.

Following the wrath of tropical storm Iselle, the alien tree species has been fingered as the culprit for toppled power lines and damage in Puna on the Big Island, as reported earlier in an Aug. 20 story in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Officials estimated at least 90 percent of trees that caused damage in the Aug. 7 tropical storm were albizias, trees native to Indonesia that have shallow roots and brittle branches.

"It's not going to go away," said Tracy Johnson, a research entomologist for the U.S. Forest Reserve, who has been working to eradicate them for more than a decade. "There's no way we can remove every tree and be done with it. It's going to remain here, so we have to manage it. Ideally, what we would like to find is a biocontrol that can limit its ability to spread so the problem doesn't get any worst. We're hoping to find something that attacks the flowers, the fruit of the tree."

It's not the first time that it's happened, of course. In the aftermath of tropical storm Flossie last summer, an albizia tree in Hilo fell over, pictured above. An albizia fell over a residential street in Puna in 2010, destroying power ilnes and fences. Albizia trees fell over on Kauai in 2009, dropping on to cars and a house.

Most people probably did't notice the albizias before they fell. After all, they're not unsightly. They aren't on the O‘ahu Invasive Species Committee's list of priority target pests.

Here are some facts about albizias:

>> The trees, native to Indonesia, were first introduced to Hawaii in 1917 by botanist Joseph Rock.

>> They were planted in Manoa valley to provide shade. On Oahu, they can  also be found along Pali and Likelike Highways, not an ideal situation.

>> They grow up to 150 feet, have weak wood and tend to grow top-heavy canopies that overwhelm native species. They dramatically increase inputs of nitrogen, displacing native trees.

Johnson  just received a $100,000 state grant to search for biocontrol agents that can help control the trees, but that's just the beginning to finding a solution, he said of a five to 10-year process or longer. He'll be searching for natural albizia enemies in Indonesia, the Soloman Islands and Papua New Guinea. Ideally, a biocontrol that attacks the albizia flowers to limits its ability to spread.

With a focus on protecting the native forests on Hawaii island, Johnson's work also involves efforts to eradicate other invasive trees and shrubs that take over quickly, choking out native trees and plants, such as:

>> Strawberry guava: Native to southeastern Brazil, brought to Hawaii in 1825 for its fruit and ornamental attributes. Occurs on all six of Hawaii's largest isles, poses a major threat to Hawaii's endemic flora and fauna. Forms impenetrable thickets and can alter water production and provide refuge for fruit flies.

>>  Miconia: On Hawaii's list of most invasive horticultural plants.  Originally from south and central America, this prolific seeder poses a threat to Oahu's forested watershed.

>> Clidemia: Also known as Koster's curse, this invasive shrub from central and South America forms dense thickets in tropical forest understories. It has spread to Oahu, the Big Island, Molokai, Maui, Kauai and Lanai.

 

Monk seal hospital: grand opening

September 6th, 2014
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Hawaiian monk seals Kulia and Ikaika in the pool at Ke Kai Ola. The young seals were transported from the Northwestern Hawaiian Isles, malnourished,  to the hospital, then fed, and released back home at the end of August. Photo by Sarah van Schagen, NMFS permit 16632-00.

Hawaiian monk seals Kulia and Ikaika in the pool at Ke Kai Ola. The malnourished seal pups were transported from the Northwestern Hawaiian Isles to the hospital in Kona. The seals were able to gain weight, and were released back in the NWHI Aug. 31. Photo by Sarah van Schagen, NMFS permit 16632-00.

 

Ke Kai Ola, the new Hawaiian monk seal hospital in Kona, held its grand opening and blessing on Sept. 2.

The Marine Mammal Center's new, $3.2 million facility, which means the healing sea in Hawaiian, is dedicated to giving sick and injured Hawaiian monk seals a second chance.

Four young, malnourished monk seals — Kulia, Ikaika, Hala‘i and Maka‘alawere admitted to Ke Kai Ola on July 9 after being rescued from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The center's vet experts and trained volunteers cared for the seals until they were healthy enough to return to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Aug. 31.

Previously, malnourished pups like the four were left behind to fend for themselves by scientists, who had no place to take them.

"We built this hospital to save a species," said Jeff Boehm, executive director of The Marine Mammal; Center. "Thenks to funding from the Firedoll Foundation as well as a generous family foundation and hundreds of donors throughout the world, this hospital can now provide life-saving medical care."

The Hawaiian monk seal population hovers at about 1,100, with fewer than one in five pups surviving their first year in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands due to threats like marine debris entanglement, changes in the food chain and predators.

The center has partnered with the  NOAA's National  Marine Fisheries Service to help save the monk seals. It will also offer public outreach programs with the help of community volunteers. Visit www.marinemammalcenter.org to learn more.

The recycling paradox

August 26th, 2014
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Josh Hancock of Downbeat Diner wants to recycle his glass bottles, but he can't. That's the irony of living in paradise. Photo by  Dennis Oda. July 2014.

Josh Hancock of Downbeat Diner wants to recycle his glass bottles, but he can't. That's the irony of living in paradise. Photo by Dennis Oda. July 2014.

Life in paradise is a paradox.

Josh Hancock, owner of Downbeat Diner and Lounge in Honolulu Chinatown, wants to recycle the high volume of glass wine and liquor bottles that he has. But he can't. And therein lies the irony.

Since July, Hancock and two other businesses nearby have had  no choice but to throw  two 50-gallon barrels of wine and liquor bottles in the trash. All because their recycling vendor was no longer picking them up. Because the city of Honolulu decided to cut the reimbursement to recyclers for glass in half, to 4.5 cents a pound from 9 cents a pound in July, as reported in the Star-Advertiser.

Companies like Reynolds Recycling no longer accept the liquor bottles and other nondeposit glass from the public.

"It's like crazy," said Hancock. "Everybody that works here, myself and my partners, we're all from that generation where recycling became ingrained in us. To have our leaders make these laws to tell us not to do that, and throw glass into the trash is backwards."

"It doesn't feel good to do it, but we're handicapped."

Hancock estimates between the three businesses, they're throwing out about 150 pounds a week. The volume from bars in Waikiki is likely two or three times higher.

The state should have stepped up to cover this predictable funding gap, according to an editorial we ran July 31. Now this glass is ending up as "noncombustible residue" in our landfills.

Glass, after all, is generally the better alternative to plastic, which we're trying to get out of our oceans. The irony is that this very ocean that surrounds us is being used as the excuse for the cost of recycling. Instead of shipping the glass out of state, surely, there's a sustainable solution that can be found at home.

Just to clarify, not all glass recycling on the island has ended.

>> Recycling vendors are still accepting HI-5 glass bottles. You still get 5-cents back per glass bottle.

>> You  may still put glass items (glass pickle jars, jelly jars, wine bottles) etc. in your blue bin for curbside recycling. That glass is still being recycled, according to Suzanne Jones, assistant chief of Honolulu's refuse division.

 

Solar vigil

August 22nd, 2014
By



Image courtesy Blue Planet Foundation.

Image courtesy Blue Planet Foundation.

The Sierra Club of Hawai‘i is inviting solar supporters to attend a candle lit vigil outside of HECO headquarters (across from 820 Ward Ave.) in Honolulu  from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 25.

Tuesday is the deadline for HECO to come up with a better plan to lower electricity rates and increase access to rooftop solar, as mandated by the Public Utilities Commission back in April.

"The message is simple: to reach energy independence, we need a plan for solar success. Without a plan to revive it, solar will remain on life support," said the club in an email calling for the vigil.

Click here if you want to join the vigil.

 

Posted in solar | No Comments »

Expanding a monument

August 21st, 2014
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 EnricSala_0659NWHI

Should the boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument be expanded?

President Barack Obama announced at an ocean conference in June his intention to expand the monument's boundaries from 50 to 200 miles from shore, using his executive authority, as reported in the Washington Post.

The total area covered would more than double the monument from about 83,000 square miles to more than 755,000 square miles, west and south of Hawaii, making it the largest network of protected areas on Earth.

PRIA Map_Credit_Pew

President Obama is expected to make a decision after public input, though there is no specified timeline or date in which he will do so yet.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality, on behalf of NOAA and FWS, invited the public to a town hall meeting Aug. 11 at Ala Moana Hotel. Comments were also accepted via email until Aug. 15.

There was overwhelming support from Hawaii, according to environmental activists.

More than 200 attended, and roughly 50 commented publicly, including individuals from Maui, Molokai, Kauai and Miloli‘i on the Big Island, the last traditional fishing village in Hawaii. The large majority were in favor of expanding the monument to protect the ecosystem from the shore to the deep sea as well as to create a refuge for endangered species. Also, to keep the area safe from drilling and mining.

More than 135,000 U.S. citizens submitted letters, 1,500 from Hawaii residents. More than 30 non-profits including the Sierra Club Hawai‘i, Conservation Council for Hawaii, KAHEA, Surfrider Hawaii and others sent a group letter in support.

Some opposition came from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery  Management because of concerns from commercial fishermen.

The monument was established by George W. Bush in 2009, covering roughly 83,000 square miles, which extend 50 nautical miles from the shores of  seven islands and atolls: Howland, Baker, Jarvis islands and Johnson, Wake and Palmyra Atolls and Kingman Reef.

Collectively, the Pacific Remote Islands are home to 14 million seabirds of 19 species, 22 species of marine mammals, seven of which are endangered, including the blue whale, m ore than 240 seamounds and some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world.

It is also home to some of the healthiest populations of green and hawksbill sea turtles.

"By protecting the entire ecosystem from the shore to the deep sea, we ensure that all the links in the food web remain intact," said Alan Friedlander, director for the Fisheries Ecology Research Lab at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

 

A monk seal film

August 11th, 2014
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A documentary film about Hawaiian monk seals is in the works, but only has four more days to go to reach its $30,000 fundraising goal on indiegogo.

The film is the subject of today's Green Leaf column.

Robin and Andrew Eitelberg of Monterey, Calif. discovered the plight of the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal a little over two years ago. Since last fall, they've been in the isles, dedicated to their goal of making a documentary film to help save the species.

They hope that the film, "One by One: The Struggle to Save the Hawaiian Monk Seal," will help educate the public about Hawaiian monk seals.

“When you talk to people  about monk seal outside of Hawaii, no one’s heard of them, so we’re starting with a completely blank slate," said Andrew. "We’re trying to get people aware of the species and what’s happening here.”

Making the Hawaiian monk seal, Hawaii's official state mammal, more visible and prominent, is one of their goals. Raising awareness of how hooked monk seals should be reported immediately is another.

The film will highlight the work of numerous conservation groups like the Monk Seal Foundation and The Marine Mammal Center, the passion of the scientists and volunteers who are working together to save the species, as well as the volunteers who are dedicated to protecting the seals as they haul ashore to get some rest in Hawaii.

Filmmakers Robin and Andrew Eitelberg. Courtesy image.

Filmmakers Robin and Andrew Eitelberg. Courtesy image.

The Eitelbergs, graduates from film studies at the University of California at Berkeley, believe documentaries have the power to tell a story and reach a worldwide audience. Both were impressed by "Blackfish."

They've been filming in the isles since last fall with the help of NOAA's Monk Seal Research Program. Challenges include capturing footage of seals that are spread out over thousands of miles, sometimes on remote isles like Papahanaumokuakea. They've respected the 150-foot distance from the seals, and are also careful to be quiet while shadowing NOAA scientists so as not to disturb the seals.

There have been many inspiring moments, according to Robin, including when a vet was able to successfully extricate a hook from monk seal pup Luana's mouth in June. A collective sigh of relief came from the team that rescued her, along with high-fives all around.

Funding will help the pair recoup out-of-pocket expenses already invested into travel and equipment, as well as editing, graphics and film festival submission fees. Robin says editing will take place in the fall, with a screening hopefully, by next spring.

They hope to offer screenings and discussions here as well as on the mainland.

With more funding and time, Andrew says it would be interesting to explore the unique challenges of monk seal populations for each isle.

"We want to have children, and grandchildren one day, and I am fearful my grandchildren will not get to see these monk seals and share the experience of knowing what they have to offer to all of us," said Andrew. "We have to all come together right now...build this movement to save a species and we hope this documentary can be a spark."

A Hawaiian monk seal snoozing. Photo courtesy "One by One."

A Hawaiian monk seal snoozing. Photo courtesy "One by One."