Archive for the ‘Green health’ Category

A Green Congress

August 11th, 2016

The IUCN World Conservation Congress is expected to bring between 6,000 to 8,000 leaders from around the globe to the Hawai‘i Convention Center in September. PHOTO BY DENNIS ODA. NOV. 28, 2015.

The IUCN World Conservation Congress is expected to bring between 6,000 to 8,000 leaders from around the globe to the Hawai‘i Convention Center in September. PHOTO BY DENNIS ODA. NOV. 28, 2015.

Let's face it – traveling itself, via jet planes, staying at hotel accommodations and consuming food and drink on the go are not exactly the best way to reduce carbon emissions in the world. After all, travelers leave a carbon footprint just by jetting to Honolulu from the other side of the world.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, nevertheless, is making every effort it can to green its upcoming World Conservation Congress in Waikiki Sept. 1 to 10. The IUCN and Hawaii Host Committee are attempting to host a zero-waste event for the largest gathering of conservationists from around the world.

Here are some of the guidelines issued in the "My Green IUCN Congress Guidebook":

> Offset carbon emissions. First of all, participants can offset their carbon emissions from air travel by contributing to the IUCN Congress Carbon Mitigation Fund when registering for the Congress. Proceeds will be go to the Cordillera Azul National Park Project in Peru.

> Use alternative transportation. Upon landing, participants are encouraged to stay at hotels adopting green business practices nearby and to take TheBus, walk, bike, carpool or request a hybrid or electric car from rental agencies.

> Go plastic-free. No plastic water bottles or plastic bags, cups, straws or packaging are to be distributed or sold at the center. Water stations will be available around the convention center for free refills. Only drinks in aluminum cans and glass bottles will be available for purchase.

> Go digital. There will be no printed program. Instead, the Congress encourages registered participants to use the official IUCN Congress mobile app (free) to reduce paper waste. Participants are encouraged to go digital, as well, for documents.

> Eat local and compostable. As much locally sourced food as possible will be sourced for the menu, which of course, can not feature any threatened species. All kitchen scraps and food waste will be collected, along with the compostable plastic tableware, to be converted into compost at local farms.

On a side note, the guidelines also request that only endemic, non-endangered, potted plants be used for decoration and only environmentally-friendly cleaning products be used on the facility.

It seems as if the Hawai‘i Convention Center, placed up on a world conservation stage, is taking pioneering, large-scale measures to make this congress as sustainable as possible. Perhaps these are measures that will set the standard for future events going forward.

Front view, Hawai‘i Convention Center in Waikiki. PHOTO BY DENNIS ODA This is the Hawaii Convention Center located at the corner of Kapiolani and Atkinson Drive. It’s having its best year yet, but is still losing money. This is the Gift of Water Statue in front that faces Atkinson Dr. PHOTO BY DENNIS ODA. NOV. 28, 2015.

The Hawai‘i Convention Center in Waikiki will adopt sustainable practices when it hosts the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016. PHOTO BY DENNIS ODA

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Banning the bead

January 13th, 2016


Microbeads. Courtesy

Microbeads. Courtesy

U.S. Congress could not agree on much in 2015, but surprisingly, it agreed that microbeads in cosmetic products should go in order to protect our oceans.

In December, both the U.S. House and Senate quickly passed the "Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015," prohibiting the manufacture and introduction of rinse-off cosmetics containing intentially-added plastic microbeads.

In between golfing and dining at Honolulu's fine restaurants during his annual winter vacation here, President Barack Obama signed the bill into law Dec. 28. He might have already made up his mind to sign the bill when Congress swept it through in December. But  maybe, just maybe, he was inspired while enjoying the fine white sands of the beach in Kailua, which are embedded with a perpetual stream of microplastic debris that wash ashore.

The nationwide ban on manufacturing goes into effect July 1, 2017, while the ban on sales goes into effect in 2018.

Environmental advocates like Surfrider Foundation, 5Gyres, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Story of Stuff, which supported the "Ban the Bead" movement celebrated it as a victory. But Kahi Pacarro, executive director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii says the group would have preferred the ban go into effect sooner.

"Between now and the time it does go into effect, it allows microbead producers and consumers to continue to pollute without consequence," he wrote in an e-mail.

Meanwhile, here's what you need to know:

>> How do you know if your cosmetic product has microbeads? If your toothpaste, face or body wash lists polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene, it probably contains microbeads. A list specifically for Hawaii is available at

>>  Beat the Microbead, an international initiative, actually launched an app that lists products as red (avoid) or green (free of microbeads). Learn more at Surprisingly, the list of red products include everything from 3D White Luxe toothpaste by Crest to cleansers by Neutrogena and Aveeno. The 2-in-1 wash and scrub at Victoria's Secret is on the list, too. If you click on the list for Hong Kong, you'll find several Shiseido beauty products as well.

>> Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins, co-founders of 5 Gyres, study trash around the world's oceans but discovered these microbeads in the Great Lakes. Just one tube of exfoliating face wash could contain more than 350,000 microbeads. An estimated 2.9 trillion microbeads enter U.S. waterways each year. Once in the marine ecosystem, the microbeads absorb toxins that are transferred to fish that mistake them for food.

>> The tiny plastic particles, or microbeads, in these personal care products can easily be replaced with natural ones such as sea salt, apricot kernels or jojoba. The microbeads are designed to go down the drain, but are difficult to filter out through wastewater treatment systems due to their small size.

>> The Society for Conservation Biology confirmed that the microbeads pose a threat to the environment, resulting in adverse health effects in wildlife and people.

Members of the Surfrider Foundation were among supporters pushing for a bill to ban the microbeads at the Hawaii legislature last year as part of its Rise Above Plastics campaign. The bill did not pass. Several other U.S. states, including California, had passed a ban, but the federal one offers an earlier start date and covers self-defined "bioplastic" microbeads, which are also an environmental concern because they dont' actually biodegrade.

Stuart Coleman, Hawaii coordinator of the Surfrider Foundation, was surprised how fast the bill passed through Congress despite its bipartisan divide. Next, the Surfrider Foundation will work on banning polystyrene foam, which most people call Styrofoam.

"We've got to work together," said Coleman. "It's not us versus them. It's what's best for our health and environment because they're almost always related."

Video from 5Gyres:

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Q&A: Ashley Lukens

June 8th, 2015



Ashley Lukens, program director of the Hawai‘i Center for Food Safety, did not initially set out to be part of the GMO fight in Hawaii. The former co-owner of Baby Awearness, a Manoa boutique selling reusable diapers and other products for eco-minded parents, focused her dissertation at the University of Hawaii at Manoa on food policy. It was entitled "Theorizing Food Justice: Critical Positionality and the Political Economy of Community Food Systems." She is also a founding member of the Hawaii Food Policy Council.

ashley_lukensBut she was working for another non-profit when the phone call from the center came, recruiting her to head up a Hawaii office. Little did she know at the time she would be stepping up to the plate in the battle for more regulations and transparency of GE crops in Hawaii.

The Washington D.C. based Center for Food Safety, a national non-profit public interest and environmental advocacy organization, was founded by public interest attorney Andrew Kimbrell 15 years ago. Though the Hawaii office just opened last April, the center played a role in the protest of kalo patents here nine years ago and is currently involved in the legal wranglings of GE regulation issues in three counties: Kauai, Hawaii and Maui.

"Pesticides in Paradise: Hawai‘i's Health & Environment At Risk," published in May, is a detailed review of the status of the GE crop field trials in Hawaii, as well as the use of pesticides in these field trials, and their impact on human and environmental health.

Among its key findings:

>> Since 1987, Hawaii has hosted more cumulative field trials — 3,243 — than any other state. Last year, 178 different GE field tests were conducted on more than 1,381 sites in Hawaii (compare this to only 175 sites in California). From 2007 to 2012, DuPont-Pioneer applied 90 different pesticide formulations containing 63 different active ingredients on Kauai.

>> The seed industry's footprint, at nearly 25,000 acres, is 72 percent of the total area planted to crops, other than sugarcane or pineapple. The majority of plants being tested are corn and soy, not niche crops such as papaya or banana. Over the past five years, the most frequently tested trait in GE crop field tests in Hawaii was herbicide-resistance.

>> Due to Hawaii's small size, it has a higher density of field tests than other states. More people in Hawaii live in closer proximity to field test sites, running a higher risk of experiencing pesticide drift.

The Green Leaf sat down for a conversation with Lukens.

Q: So you weren't interested initially interested in wading into the GMO debate in Hawaii?

A: I was not interested in the debate when it was couched as the papaya (debate), if GE papaya is safe to eat, and I wasn't interested in the labeling debate...I think we should label, as a mom. As owner of Baby Awearness, one of the things that was so overwhelmingly profound to me was the new sense of responsibility that parents felt for the health and safety of their kids, to the extent they were willing to radically change things about their lives. What Baby Awearness did was provide them with information they needed to make decisions. To me, that was the labeling conversation...

Q: What changed your mind?

A: So I meet this mom named Malia Chun, with two daughters. Her house shares a fenceline with one of these field (in Kekaha, Kauai). In three years, she's developed adult asthma and her daughters have chronic respiratory issues and nosebleeds. She's debating the prospect of sending her children to Waimea Canyon Middle School because that school's been evacuated three times (due to suspected incidents of pesticide drift)...I started to think, this isn't an issue about labeling, this is an environmental justice issue...

Q: Are GE crops and pesticides inextricably linked?

A: I think before Center for Food Safety entered the fray and tried to clarify the debate, it was about papaya, it was about what corn you could eat....This pesticide report emerges from my need to figure out what was going on...[The "Pesticides in Paradise" report] examines what's going on, where are these companies, what are they growing and what pesticides are they using? I wanted to know all the available data and also the gaps in the data...

Q: Where did you get the data?

A: Some of the information was released from the Pioneer dust class action suit (a federal court jury awarded $507,090 to 15 Waimea residents in May). You can dig into the data on a publicly available website reporting (U.S. Department of Agriculture) field trial permits every year, but it's not user-friendly...The first thing I learned was that Hawaii hosts more field trials than any other state in the nation...

And then we said, okay, what are the field trials for? Eighty-seven percent of the plants were being genetically engineered for herbicide tolerance.  This means that plants genetically engineered in Hawaii, by and large, are engineered to resist ever greater application of herbicides...So that to me really clarified that, in Hawaii, the issue of genetic engineering is not the issue of whether it's safe to eat, the issue is whether these plants are safe to develop and grow.

We're not simply growing deregulated GE corn varieties. The [seed] companies will often say, well these products have already been approved. They've been proven safe. They get exemptions because they're field trials. They are, by definition, experimental...Most of it is corn and soy...Who holds the most permits? Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow Chemical, Dupont-Pioneer....Only Kauai requires that companies report the pesticides they're spraying because of the victory of the community passing ordinance 960 [which in turn was struck down by a federal judge]. The mayor asked the companies to participate in a voluntary report and they did, so over the year I've been running the office we've been getting monthly reports [from the Kauai Good Neighbor Program].

Q: And what are the consequences for people who live here?

A: The other thing we found out is that Hawaii has a much higher population density than the states that are also hosting high volumes. And a lot of our communities live in agricultural spaces....With a cursory review of data, what was different about Hawaii was clear, the relationship between GEs and pesticides was clear. What exactly is the pesticide use, is where it becomes really scary because, by and large, we have no idea what these companies are doing...The second part of the report really digs into the pesticide use associated with GE field trials on Kauai and it makes an argument that disclosure is necessary statewide because we only have this data for Kauai.

Q: What was the most alarming finding?

A: The amount of chlorpyrifos these companies are using. Chlorpyrifos is a very well researched pesticide. One of the things these companies will say is you can't prove that the health problems in these communities are related to pesticide use...So I think it's the responsibility of the state to say, where else have these studies been done? Those studies already do exist...I think the science is clear and it is incumbent on the state to put protection measures in place for our kupuna and our children...

Q: What do you hope releasing this report to the public accomplishes?

A: At the end of the day, it's giving the public access to the information they need to be informed advocates. We need to be asking, what types of policy are we making? There's the larger question about what a state like Hawaii should be doing with its prime agricultural lands. This industry's expanding. We don't have the regulations on the books that respond to the ag practices of these companies. Our ag regulations were developed for sugar and pineapple...

We're increasingly food insecure, importing upwards of 85, 90 percent of our food annually. We need to be asking, as a state, what types of policies are we pursuing to ensure that we grow enough food to sustain our population?...Ag self sufficiency means the products that come off the farm in Hawaii feed Hawaii. [GE seed crops]  are an export-oriented industry. We need to ask ourselves, for our long-term economic sustainability, do we really want to be making GE seed crops the third leg of our economy? It seems foolish to me.

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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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EWG Guide on GE foods

February 20th, 2014


Star-Advertiser file photo.

Star-Advertiser file photo.

In a recent Star Advertiser-Hawaii News Now poll, three-quarters of voters interviewed want the state Legislature to pass a law requiring that all genetically modified organisms sold in Hawaii be labeled.

Yet only a quarter of voters were very familiar with GMOs. Still, consumers feel that they have a right to know.

Here's Monsanto's stance on labeling GE Foods — basically that it opposes mandatory labeling because "it could imply incorrectly that foods containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterparts."

If you're concerned, help is here.

The Environmental Working Group released a new shopping guide on Wednesday to help consumers figure out which supermarket foods likely contain genetically engineered ingredients.

According to the EWG, a non-profit based in Washington D.C., more than 60 other nations, including France, Germany, Japan, Russia, China and the United Kingdom require GE labeling. The U.S. government, however, does not require labeling of GE foods or ingredients.

EWG says while scientists have not determined whether GE food poses risks to human health, consumers have many good reasons to be concerned.

On its "Watch List" the EWG included:

>> Papaya. More than 75 percent of Hawaiian papaya is genetically engineered to resist the ringspot virus (Hawaiian Papaya Industry Association 2013).

>> Zucchini and yellow summer squash. A few varieties of squash are genetically engineered. Opt for organic varieties.

>> Sweet corn. Most sweet corn sold in supermarkets and farm stands is not grown from GE seeds, but a few varieties are. Buy organic sweet corn.

Four most common GE ingredients in food, according to EWG:

>> Field corn and corn-derived ingredients. Some 90 percent of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered. While most of it is cultivated for animal feed, about 12 percent is processed as corn flour, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, masa, corn meal and corn oil that end up in foods consumed by people (EPA 2013). Consumers should assume that those ingredients in processed foods are genetically engineered.

>> Soybeans and soybean-derived ingredients. The list would include soy proteins, soybean oil, soy milk, soy sauce, tofu or soy lecithin (unless certified organic or GE-free).

>> Sugar. About 55 percent of sugar produced in the U.S. comes from sugar beets, 95 percent of which have been genetically engineered (USDA 2013c). EWG says if a product label does not specify it has been made with "pure cane" sugar, chances are significant it contains GE beet sugar.

>> Vegetable oils. Consumers should assume that vegetable oil, canola oil, cottonseed, soybean and corn oils are genetically engineered.

Here are 5 Things you should know about GMOs, according to EWG. Here's a link to all of EWG's consumer guides.

The 2013 EWG sunscreen guide is out

June 12th, 2013

The babo botanical clear zinc sport stick, SPF 30, got a No. 1 score on Environmental Working Group's 2013 sunscreen guide. Courtesy image.

The babo botanical clear zinc sport stick, SPF 30, got a No. 1 score on Environmental Working Group's 2013 sunscreen guide. Courtesy image.

Every year, the Environmental Working Group in Washington D.C. puts out a comprehensive sunscreen guide based on safety and effectiveness.

Some of the top beach & sports sunscreens meeting EWG's criteria this year include Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sport Stick, Badger Aloe Vera Sunscreen, California Baby Super Sensitive Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, Celadon Road Sunscreen, Coola Suncare (baby moisturizer and UV body moisturizer sunscreens), Jersey Kids All Natural All Green Sunscreen, Seventh Generation Wee Generation Baby Sunscreen, thinkSport thinkbaby Sunscreen, UV Natural Baby and UV Natural Sport Suncreens. These particular brands and products were all scored a No. 1, but even mainstream brands like Coppertone Kids Pure & Simple and CVS Baby Sun Lotion got a score of No. 2, with good UVA protection and moderate health concerns.

EWG rates a total of about 1,400 SPF-rated sunscreens based on published scientific literature to supplement incomplete data available from companies and the government. Ratings indicate the efficacy of the product and relative level of concern posed by exposure to ingredients in the product.

Generally, EWG recommends mineral-based sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide which protect against both UVA and UVB rays. EWG does not recommend using spray sunscreens (due to inhalation risks), or sunscreens that contain oxybenzone (which acts like estrogen), retinyl palmitate or combined sunscreens and bug repellents. On sun-exposed skin, EWG has concerns that Retinyl Palmitate, a form of vitamin A, may speed development of skin tumors and lesions (even though the FDA has yet to rule on the safety of retinyl palmitate in skin care products).

Also, a higher SPF is not necessarily better and can actually be misleading. A sunscreen with a super-high SPF also may protect against sunburn but leave your skin exposed to damaging UVA rays.

Look closely at the list of ingredients in your sunscreen. Sunglasses, hats and shade still offer some of the the best protection from the sun this summer.

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Summer Films at Waimea Valley

May 29th, 2013

Introducing the "Taste of Summer Film Series," which will offer a monthly series of inspirational and educational documentaries promoting the local food movement starting in June. The film series is presented by the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation and Waimea Valley.

One film will be screened each summer month at 7:30 p.m. following the Haleiwa Farmer's Market from 3 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays in Waimea Valley. Local food vendors from the market will be on hand serving an assortment of tasty and locally grown meals, snacks and beverages.

Admission and parking are free at Waimea Valley, 59-864 Kamehameha Highway. Films will be shown in the Pikake Pavilion.

Here's the lineup of films:

>> June 6: "Ingredients Hawaii" — Captures Hawaii's farm-to-table movement as well as the vibrant food community dedicated to human, environmental and cultural health. 32 minutes.

>> July 11: "Seeds of Hope" — Exposes the world to the individual heroes who are working to solve the  biggest issue facing Hawaii — how can Hawaii feed itself? For 1,000 years the Hawaiian people produced enough food to support an estimated population of 1 million but today, an estimated 85 percent of food is imported to the isles. 87 minutes.

>> Aug. 1: "Truck Farm" — Tells the story of a new generation of quirky urban farmers from New York City to rooftops, windows and barges. Includes musical narration by The Fisherman Three. 48 minutes.

Visit for more information.

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Bringing the ‘aina to Oahu schools

January 26th, 2012

Students and volunteers at Kainalu Elementary School celebrate a boost in funding from Kaiser Permanente for their school garden program and a summer conference. Through Aina in Schools, the students can participate in an after-school Garden Club where they learn to tend to plants and compost, and enjoy a weekly salad bar in their cafeteria. Photo courtesy of the Kokua Hawaii Foundation.

Students and volunteers at Kainalu Elementary School celebrate a boost in funding from Kaiser Permanente for their school garden program and a summer conference. Through Aina in Schools, the students can participate in an after-school Garden Club where they learn to tend to plants and compost, and enjoy a weekly salad bar in their cafeteria. Photo courtesy of the Kokua Hawaii Foundation.

Aside from the challenge of getting kids to eat their veggies, parents sometimes have to educate them about where they come from other than in a plastic bag from the supermarket. Many kids have no idea — do carrots grow on trees or peas sprout from the ground?

Making an effort to change all that is the Kokua Hawaii Foundation's ‘Aina in Schools, a farm-to-school program aiming to connect children to their land, waters and food for a healthier future.

A total of 12 public elementary schools on Oahu participate in the program, so far. Students learn how to garden as well as get a lesson in nutrition. Four schools have salad bars, and four participate in a fresh fruit and vegetable snack program.

Kaiser Permanente recently presented the Kokua Hawaii Foundation with a grant to fund two projects: A school garden food safety certification pilot program and this summer's Hawaii State Farm to School Conference.

Food safety certification for school gardens is a major hurdle for schools to get produce grown on campus into the lunch program, according to Dexter Kishida, Kokua's school food coordinator. So this is a first step towards getting some of those garden greens on to students' lunch plates.

What Capt. Moore wants you to know about plastic

January 23rd, 2012

Capt. Charles Moore, discoverer of the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," dons a necklace made out of plastic debris by Hawaii Island artist Noni Sanford, who combs Kamilo Beach.

Capt. Charles Moore, discoverer of the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," dons a necklace made out of plastic debris by artist Noni Sanford, who combs Kamilo Beach on Hawaii island. Photo by Nina Wu..

Capt. Charles Moore, author of "Plastic Ocean" (Avery, $26) has dedicated his first book "to the generation, not yet born, that creates a world where plastic pollution is unthinkable."

Moore, 64, is far from retiring from his life's mission — to educate the public about the dangers of the "plastic soup" he first stumbled upon in the North Pacific Gyre in 1997. While most media have referred to him as the discoverer of the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," he prefers to call it a "plastic soup" as a more accurate description of the broken-down bits and pieces of plastics as well as abandoned fishing nets floating below and above the surface of the ocean.

At the time, he was shocked by the amount of plastic litter in the ocean (seven successive days, over 1,000 nautical square miles) but didn't realize then that plastic was toxic, or "bio-active," with potentially harmful effects on human health.

His research vessel, the Alguita, has since returned to the Gyre numerous times to collect more data as well as to far corners of the world to document the extent of plastic dispersed in our ocean. In 2014 (the 15th anniversary of his discovery), Capt. Moore will return and spend a month to study a "plastic coral reef."

Capt. Moore carries a pouch of plastic debris collected from Kamilo Beach on Hawaii island.

Capt. Moore carries a pouch of plastic debris collected from Kamilo Beach on Hawaii island.

Moore carries a pouch of "plastic sand" — broken down bits of plastic that have been ingested by marine mammals and wash back up on Hawaii's shores – to show people what it is. The plastic debris is driven by the currents in particular towards Kamilo Beach on Hawaii island and Kahuku Beach on Oahu.

He also has some examples of bottles that have been chewed on (what looks like the remains of a shampoo bottle, top of a cleaning bottle, tube of insect repellent as well as a piece of plastic improperly incinerated and then thrown back out into the ocean). Plastic bottle caps are also very common.

"Plastic garbage does not belong in the ocean any more than sharks  belong in municipal swimming pools," says Moore in his book. "Plastic is like an invasive species. Once established, it doesn't go away..."

Moore met co-author Cassandra Phillips at a zero-waste meeting on the Big Island, where he lives part-time. He was looking for mulch, and she was looking to collect different types of recycled plastic for orchid pots. In 2006, she received grant funding from the USDA Small Business Innovation and Research program to study recycled plastics as an orchid growth medium.

While talking, they decided that Moore should write a book. Moore has written articles for scientific journals and been in several documentaries, but this is his first book.

Here is more of my conversation with Moore last week (after he spent the morning at a beach cleanup at Kahuku with the Kokua Hawaii Foundation's Plastic Free Hawaii and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii) and before a book reading at BookEnds in Kailua.

Q: What made you decide to write this book?

A: I felt the urgency of alerting people to this danger because it is an imminent danger in a lot of different ways, not only to species in the ocean, but to us as a species.

Q: To our health?

A: Very much so. It's all around us. We wear it, we drive in it, we get our food delivered in it, we make our children's toys with it and feed them with it...We entered the Plastic Age in 1979 when plastic surpassed steel as a manufactured item... We're living in the Plastic Age, but we haven't really had the plastic conversation...It turns out plastic has properties that make it bio-active and we're just now discovering some of the effects of that...I'd been thinking I needed to get this out there (in a book)...

Q. Some may read your book, and some may not, but if there's anything you want the public to know, what would it be?

A: That we've entered the Plastic Age, kind of silently, and it's causing a lot of problems with our health and the health of the environment. And we desperately need to have a plastic conversation. We need to discuss where it belongs because it's in a lot of places it doesn't belong (like the ocean) and us...including those chemicals that are in us: BPA (Bisphenol A) and phthalates...

Q. Is your message reaching people?

A: Little by little, we're gaining traction...A Japanese translation (of the book) is coming out in August. I'll be touring Japan in August and September.

Q. So if we can't go out and vacuum plastic out of the Pacific Gyre from a practical point of view, what can we do about the plastic problem?

A: Stop putting it in...Packaging from the mainland is a large concern. Those companies that sell you things in the island do not take back the packaging. They make your municipal government handle all that waste. People wrap it in plastic to make sure it comes here in a pristine state...Imagine if an island demanded that products that came to the island had a take-back infrastucture, a container filled back up with pallets of packaging on its way back. That's what we need to do...Local consumption is the key, I believe, to stopping this plastic monster and getting it out of the ocean because you don't have to wrap taro or locally produced papayas in plastic...I'm an advocate of what I call a regional reliance inventory — that we make everything we need to rely on to live here, so people can get things locally, for energy use, food, clothing and basics.

Q: Part of this is your concern for future generatons.

A: Absolutely...It doesn't appear as if any trophic level is immune...every sized organism is eating plastic, including a whale that washed up dead on a West Seattle beach with surgical gloves, plastic bags and golf balls [in its belly]...No part of the pyramid is immune.

Broken down pieces of plastic, including a shampoo bottle, tube of insect repellent and improperly incinerated piece of plastic.

Broken down pieces of plastic, including a shampoo bottle, tube of insect repellent and improperly incinerated piece of plastic.

Capt. Moore is the founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. To read more about the Foundation's work, visit To see a full schedule of Capt. Moore's book tour, click here.

A total of 274 volunteers collected more than 3,600 pounds of trash from the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge and Kahuku Beach, where ocean currents "spit out" the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Photo courtesy of the Kokua Hawaii Foundation.

A total of 274 volunteers collected more than 3,600 pounds of trash from the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge and Kahuku Beach, where ocean currents "spit out" the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Photo courtesy of the Kokua Hawaii Foundation.

Wash your reusable bags

November 3rd, 2011

Warning: Your reusable bag may potentially be harboring several different kinds of bacteria.

This was the finding of a recent study by Dr. Charles Gerba at the University of Arizona published in "Food Protection Trends."

Gerba tested 87 reusable bags from random shoppers in California and Arizona in summer 2010 and found nearly all of them contained some form of bacteria, and eight percent contained E. Coli.

Yet only three percent of shoppers surveyed by Dr. Gerba said they washed theirreusablescloseup reusable bags between uses.

So the solution is simple: Wash your reusable bags.

This, according to Dr. Gerba, will remove 99.9 percent of germs. "Although it may be a nuisance, washing must be done to ensure your food is safe to eat," said Gerba. "I'd recommend washing it with hot, soapy water after each use."

He added that it was important to pay attention to meats and dairy products.

But there's no reason to panic, and no reason to stop using reusable bags. Bringing your own bag to the grocery store as well as retail stores will reduce the need for plastic bags, which don't break down for thousands of years. If you're buying something and you don't need a plastic bag, let the checkout cashier know — think twice about it.

It's also great eliminating the plastic bag monster from under your sink, believe me!

After using several different kinds of reusable bags — everything from canvas to recycled plastic to polypropylene, I think my favorite ones are the ones that you can compact down into a pouch and easily throw into the wash.

Brands include ChicoBag, Baggu and EnviroSax. They actually carry a pretty good amount once you open them up, but are easy to store away in your purse when you're not using them. And they're also easy to throw into the wash.

You can find the abstract to the study on the International Association for Food Protection's website.

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