Archive for the ‘Plastic’ Category

Marine debris art

July 31st, 2014
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Honolulu artist Shannon McCarthy painted this monk seal ocean scene on five reclaimed wood panels and a border made out of invasive strawberry guava wood. The panels will be on display at the Jack Johnson concerts Aug. 1 and 2. Photo courtesy Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.

Honolulu artist Shannon McCarthy created this monk seal ocean scene mosiac on five reclaimed wood panels bordered by invasive strawberry guava. The mosaic will be on display at the Jack Johnson concerts Aug. 1 and 2 at Waikiki Shell. Photo courtesy Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.

So, what do you do with all of that plastic debris — small pieces of broken-down plastics, or microplastics — cleaned from the beach?

For Honolulu artist and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii volunteer, Shannon McCarthy, the answer is, get creative and make art.

She created a Hawaiian monk seal ocean scene (two adult monk seals, one pup) on the North Shore on five wooden panels constructed out of reclaimed wood with a border of invasive strawberry guava wood. The mosaic was first unveiled at a beach cleanup at Point Panic (Kakaako) in June, then went on display at Honolulu Hale. It will be up at the Jack Johnson concert at Waikiki Shell Aug. 1 and 2. 

The microplastics were collected using rudimentary sand sifters, then separated and glued to the panels. Students from Kainalu Elementary, St. John Vianney, St. Louis School,  St. Anthony, Kahaluu Elementary and members of Girl Scouts Troop 840 all pitched in on the artwork, as well as helped with beach cleanups over the past three months, collecting the marine debris.

"The mosaics are inspired by the need to spread awareness of plastics and marine debris in all the oceans," said McCarth, "how to reduce or eliminate our daily impact on it, and how drastically beautiful Hawaii and its inhabitants are being affected by this pollution."

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii's first Ultimate Sand Sifter Challenge, meanwhile, is still on. The contest encourages Oahu residents to create and build sand sifters to efficiently remove the microplastics from the sand on the beach.

"The hope is that this mural will directly inspire people to pay attention to the overwhelming amount of marine debris affecting our coastlines," said SCH executive director Kahi Pacarro. "Our Sand Sifter Challenge is meant to foster out-of-the-box thinking, entrepreneurial spirit and teamwork to tackle a growing problem that, if not addressed, will lead to an unsustainable future for Hawaii's coastlines."

The sand sifters must be human powered and built for under $300. The winning team wins a $2,500 cash prize plus an additional $2,500 to replicate five sand sifters. Submissions for the contest are due Sept. 26. Visit sustainablecoastlineshawaii.org/ultimate-sand-sifter-challenge to learn more.

 

Sand Sifter Challenge

July 3rd, 2014
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SandSifterChallenge

Got creative design and build talents?

Then get ready for the first Ultimate Sand Sifter Challenge by Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Kupu. Both organizations are challenging contestants to design the ultimate sand sifter to remove microplastics from Hawaii's beaches. Microplastics, tiny pieces of broken-down plastic that wash ashore from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, are a hazard to marine animals that consume them.

If you've ever visited any windward Oahu beach, look down and what you may think are colorful shells are actually tiny pieces of plastic.

Deadline for online submissions is due Sept. 26.

Register with your name, affiliation, email, a phone number and then, simply, a drawing and description of your sifter design. The sifter must be human-powered (using no gas or fossil fuels) and should be designed and constructed for under $300, with an emphasis on reused, recycled and sustainable materials.

"Marine debris is going to continue washing ashore until we as global citizens drastically reduce our use of unnecessary plastics," said executive director Kahi Pacarro. "Until that time, in order for our beaches to remain the nicest in the world,  the public will need to #cleanyobeach! Sand sifters make our work easier and will promote newer ideas to make our work more efficient and educational."

Last summer, RevoluSun donated a sandsifter for a beach cleanup at Sandy's Beach. Check out their design.

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii will announce the designs that have been green lighted Oct. 3. Participating individuals then have until Nov. 14 to build their sand sifters. The final competition will be held Nov. 15 at Kailua Beach Park. Winner gets $2,500 plus an additional $2,500 to build their sand sifter for partner organizations that clean Oahu's coastlines.

Can you design and build a sand sifter to separate out microplastics? Photo courtesy Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.

Can you design and build a sand sifter to separate out microplastics? Photo courtesy Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.

Polystyrene foam happy?

June 13th, 2014
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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 www.foamfacts.com, 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.

BYOC

 

Save your bottle caps

May 9th, 2014
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The students at Mililani ‘Ike Elementary collected the most plastic bottle caps, winning a concert by singer and co-founder of the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation, Jack Johnson.

The students at Mililani ‘Ike Elementary collected the most plastic bottle caps, winning a concert by singer and co-founder of the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation, Jack Johnson. Mililani ‘Ike and Mililani Mauka Elementary schools tied for most caps collected, while St. Elizabeth School collected the most caps per capita. Honolulu Pulse photo.

Save your plastic bottle caps.

Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation's first Bottle Cap Collection Challenge netted 21,862 pounds of plastic bottle caps this year, and plans to hold another one in 2015. More than 50 schools, pre-school to high school, public, charter and private, participated in this  year's inaugural challenge. The caps collected have been sent to California to be recycled into new products, including Method's Ocean Plastic bottle and Preserve toothbrush and razor handles.

The contest, which ran from Feb. 1 through March 31, was an initiative to collect and recycle plastic bottle caps that are normally thrown away (they don't belong in the blue bin, in case you didn't know). And if you've been to a recycling redemption center, you find out that you need to remove them before feeding the reverse-vending machines.

Mililani Mauka and Mililani ‘Ike Elementary Schools tied for most caps collected overall, while St. Elizabeth School collected most caps per capita and won a special performance by Jack Johnson.

Congratulations to all of the following schools, who placed tops in the challenge (Top 13 get a waste-free classroom celebration kit with cloth napkins, Preserve cutlery, cups, plates and Method Ocean Plastic dish and hand soap):

1st Place Elementary - St. Elizabeth School - Most Caps Per Capita
2nd Place Elementary - Soto Academy
3rd Place Elementary - Kahala Elementary School

1st Place Middle/Intermediate School - SEEQS: The School for Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability
2nd Place Middle/Intermediate School - Waialua Intermediate School
3rd Place Middle/Intermediate School - Niu Valley Middle School

1st Place High School - King's Christian Academy
2nd Place High School - King Kekaulike High School
3rd Place High School - Aiea High School

1st Place Pre-School - Aiea Hongwanji Mission Academy
2nd Place Pre-School - Central Union Pre-School

Some inspiring stories and photos from the schools are available on the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation blog page. Students and teachers alike shared their thoughts on the bottle cap challenge. Fifth grade students at Kahala Elementary volunteered to help unscrew caps at Honolulu Zoo. "Even recycling one bottle cap can make a difference," said one student at Niu Valley Middle School.

All proceeds from Jack Johnson's concert at Waikiki Shell on Friday, Aug. 1 during his "From Here to Now To You" Tour! will benefit the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation. Tickets go on sale tomorrow, Saturday, May 10.

Great idea! Folks at Reynold's Recycling helped collect plastic bottle caps (which don't go in the reverse vending machines) to help schools participating in this year's Hawaii Bottle Cap Challenge. Photo by Nina Wu.

Great idea! Folks at Reynold's Recycling helped collect plastic bottle caps (which don't go in the reverse vending machines) to help schools participating in the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation's Bottle Cap Challenge. Photo by Nina Wu.

A plastic Easter

April 14th, 2014
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When did Easter become so plastic? Typical store aisle of Easter goodies. Photo by Nina Wu.

When did Easter become so plastic? Typical store aisle of Easter goodies. Photo by Nina Wu.

While wandering the aisles of the store the other day, with shelves full of Easter goodies, it struck me that most of the offerings are now, plastic.

Plastic Easter egg shells, plastic cellophane filler grass, plastic-packaged chocolate Easter bunnies and candies, plastic toys and sometimes, even plastic Easter baskets. When did Easter become so plastic?

Sure, I can see how plastic egg shells come in handy for an Easter egg hunt. Unlike real, boiled eggs, they won't spoil.

But having watched "Bag It The Movie: Is Your Life Too Plastic?' and Plastic Paradise and seeing images of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, I know I'm also trying to get away from so many plastics.

Easter egg shells would, in my book, fall under the classification of single-use plastics because they're intended to be used once, then thrown away after the hunt is done. Sure, you can reuse them. But do you have a three-year-old? Chances are after he or she plays with the plastic eggs in the house, you're not going to find the matching halves.

So I'm not purchasing any plastic eggs this year. I know they'll still end up in the house — inevitably, my three-year-old will come home with some from school or community events. If you're vegan, well, then you'll be skipping the eggs.

As for the Easter grass, there are now options for the eco-conscious. Whole Foods Market sells this organic and compostable Easter basket grass by The Vermont Hay Co. Safeway sells "Eco-Pure" plastic grass which claims to be biodegradable. I say — just skip the grass. You don't really need it.

Here are some Easter greening suggestions:

>> Get a non-plastic Easter basket that you can use year-round, and not just for Easter. I opted for a handwoven, fair trade Alaffia mini market basket, woven from savannah grass by a women's cooperative in West Africa. Hopefully we'll use this basket again at farmer's market.

FTR-5-things-basket-3

>> Skip the Easter grass. I'm inclined to say just skip it  because you don't really  need it. If you feel like you must have filler, then try shredded newspaper that you can later recycle.

>> Go back to real eggs and natural dyes. How about going back to using real eggs (preferably local), with natural dyes made from beets, blueberries and green tea? Here are several all-natural Easter Egg dye recipes from "Better Homes & Gardens." You can find plenty of ideas online, including www.lovechildorganics.com/blog. See eggs below. Aren't they  beautiful?

Find the blog "How to Dye Easter Eggs Naturally: at www.lovechildorganics.com.blog

Find the blog "How to Dye Easter Eggs Naturally: at www.lovechildorganics.com/blog

Bottle Caps

March 10th, 2014
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Students at Lanikai Elementary are participating in Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation's School Bottle Cap Collection Challenge. Looks like they even have a special collection container. Courtesy photo.

Students at Lanikai Elementary are participating in Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation's School Bottle Cap Collection Challenge. Looks like they even have a special collection container. Courtesy photo.

I've had a bag full of bottle caps for some time. I know the city doesn't take them for recycling in the blue bin (only No. 1 and No. 2) in Honolulu. So, honestly, I was hoping to recycle them somewhere convenient.

And now that opportunity is here, with the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation's first Hawaii School Bottle Cap Collection Challenge. Visit kokuahawaiifoundation.org/bottlecapchallenge to find a list of participating schools.

Each participating school collects plastic bottle caps from the community and turns them in by March 31. Schools will submit a collection report online and also document the process with photos, videos and blogs.

The school that collects the most caps for recycling wins a special performance by musician Jack Johnson (the foundation’s co-founder).

The challenge, which started Feb. 1, is open to all Hawaii schools, from pre-school to high school. More than 50 schools, so far, are participating, mostly from Oahu, but also from Kauai, Maui and the Big Island. New schools are still welcome to register.

The foundation partnered with Method and Preserve to send the plastic caps to California, where they will be recycled into new products, including Method’s Ocean Plastic bottle and Preserve’s cutlery, plates and cups.

At Kokua’s beach cleanups over the year, volunteers have collected more than 25,000 pounds of waste, including thousands of discarded plastic bottle caps.

Can your cap be recycled?

The Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation has a collection guide. Look for the No. 5 inside the triangular recycling symbol, which stands for a rigid plastic called polypropylene.

These usually include caps that twist on to shampoo, water, soda, milk and other beverage bottles, as well as vitamin and medicine cap lids, the flip top caps on ketchup and mayonnaise, and peanut butter jar lids.

The recycling challenge is not accepting plastic pumps with metal springs, margarine tub lids or metal lids.

Happy recycling!

Recyclingcaps

 

The sorting line

February 23rd, 2014
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A recent visit to RRR Recycling at Campbell Industrial Park was really eye-opening.

It was exciting to see where all our curbside pickup recyclables go — and how they're sorted, baled and then shipped out to be remade into new products. I mean, this is truly recycling in action!

It's a large, dirty and noisy operation — and fast-paced. That conveyer belt goes pretty fast in the beginning. Workers are snatching out plastic bags and items that don't belong from left and right. I saw sneakers, phonebooks and hard-cover books go by (none belong in your blue bin).

Kudos to the 14 hard-working employees who sort this stuff seven days a week.

There are huge mountains of cardboard spilling on to the floor (I'm glad it gets recycled). Huge mounds of newspaper piled on a floor, and on the other side of the sorting line, piles of plastics, glass and aluminum.

The plastics are sorted by No. 1 and No. 2. Then the No. 2 plastics are sorted according to color or white because, apparently, once the color has been added in, the color can't be removed.

Recycling trucks collect the blue bins from more than 150 routes, bringing in an estimated 20,000 tons of recyclable materials a year. These recyclables actually bring the city and county of Honolulu $1.5 million in net revenue, according to Suzanne Jones, assistant chief for the refuse division.

But they could potentially bring in more, if people understood more of what can go in the blue bins.

People seem to understand newspapers go in there (yeah!) plus cardboard (only the corrugated kind). More plastics other than plastic water bottles and beverage containers (which some like to redeem for 5-cents apiece) can go in there, including plastic bottles for shampoo, body wash, vitamins and peanut butter. Glass jars. Milk containers. Wine bottles.

What's cool about all this is that recyclables are also diverted from our landfill.

"Back before the program started, if you really think about it, all of this was going to the landfill," said Manasseh Santos, who works on the sorting line. "With us recycling now, it'l save landfill space. It's a good thing all the way around."

To learn more, visit opala.org, which has 30-second video clips and pretty extensive information about recycling. Look out for my post about the blue bin tomorrow.

Newspapers baled and ready to be shipped to China for recycling.

Newspapers baled and ready to be shipped to China for recycling.

The BYOB movement

January 13th, 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.

I think it's happening.

Despite sluggishness, and resistance, I detect a BYOB —  bring your own bag — movement gaining momentum in Hawaii. Starting Friday, Hawaii county joins Maui and Kauai counties in officially banning conventional, plastic carryout bags.

Honolulu, the most populated of the isles, should have been at the forefront, but instead will be the last to join the ban, which takes effect in July 2015 (despite the law being signed by former Mayor Peter Carlisle in 2012). Hawaii, one of the states most vulnerable to the damaging effects of plastic in our oceans, should have been at the forefront of the plastic bag ban, as well.

But let's not focus on what should have been. Let's focus on the here and now.

Here, in Honolulu, you can take steps to reduce plastic bags, now, by using reusable bags. It's low-cost, even no-cost (because you don't have to go out and buy reusable bags, though plenty are available) and requires just a little bit of effort. I notice more people in the checkout line bringing their own bags. I no longer get my groceries automatically swept into a plastic bag when I bring my own bags (plus bringing your own bag is an option at self checkout). And at some stores, they actually say, "Thanks for bringing a bag!"

It's also a matter of wanting to reduce the use of plastic bags, because I imagine some people are actually hoarding them in preparation for the day when stores will no longer be giving them out at checkout.

Here are the top three excuses:

1. I FORGOT MY BAGS. One way to avoid this is to keep them in the car, or whatever means of transportation you have to the grocery store. You can also keep a small one (foldable in a pouch, like chicobag, envirosax, etc.) in your purse or backpack, handy for a quick run to the store. Or just use your backpack. Speaking of bags, I've found, from a practical point of view — that the large, square-bottomed and insulated ones work best. Trader Joe bags have also been great, flat on the bottom and durable. I've been bringing my own bags to the grocery store consistently over the years, and trying to remember to bring them to places like Long's Drugs and other retail outlets, too. Some boutiques are also starting to hand over purchases in reusable bags — a trend I like.

2. THERE AREN'T ENOUGH BAGS. Right. So get 15 to 20 reusable bags or more, if you need to, and go for the large and sturdy ones. You can also use beach totes, backpacks and baskets. If you're just heading from the store straight to your car with a shopping cart, you don't really need a double plastic bag to carry that six-pack of Coke or gallon of milk.  Follow Costco's lead and reuse an empty cardboard box.

3. I REUSE THE BAGS AT HOME. Sure, reuse is one of the three R's. But reduce comes before reuse. I understand. I use them to line my trash cans, too. I end up getting takeout lunch handed to me in a plastic bag. There are alternatives. I have a dog, too, but I don't typically use grocery bags to pick up poop – preferring reused bread bags, newspaper bags and Biobags instead. This is a tough one, and I'll let you know if I find a good alternative.

I still need to work on it, myself. But we can all try a little more.

I think charging a fee for paper bags is a good idea, since they cost more to produce and aren't necessarily any better for the environment. Seattle has done just that. The plastic bags that stores give out aren't necessarily free, either, but come with a cost that's probably calculated in overhead and passed on to the consumer. The Sierra Club cited a study in Seattle that determined a net cost of about $121 per ton of plastic bags that end up in the landfill annually. The cost to the environment is even higher.

Come on. No more excuses. You can bring your own bags to the store, some of the time or all of the time, even before the law kicks in next year.

Helping Vans Triple Crown Go Eco

November 19th, 2013
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Helping Triple Van Crown surfers and surf-goers recycle and tread responsibly on the ocean. Courtesy photo.

Helping Vans Triple Crown surfers and surf-goers recycle and tread responsibly on the ocean. Courtesy photo.

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii is collaborating with Vans Triple Crown of Surfing on Oahu's North Shore to make this year's series of professional surfing events more eco-friendly and environmentally responsible.

The non-profit built custom, recycling and compost stations which will be on hand daily while the surf contests are going on. Members will also talk-story with event-goers about the impacts of plastic on coastal pollution.

Sustainablesurf.org brought Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii on board as part of their strategy to certify the Vans Triple Crown as a Deep Blue Surfing Event, which is a trademarked label for events with a certain set of green guidelines that focus on reducing waste, energy, transportation and impacts on climate change while increasing community support.

SCHtriplecrownTriple Crown, now in its 39th year, brings surfers and spectators from throughout the world to Oahu's North Shore, continuing a rich, surfing heritage of progression, high-performance and power surfing.

Throughout Triple Crown contest events (which started Nov. 12 and run until Dec. 20), including the Reef Hawaiian Pro, Vans World Cup and Billabong Pro, members of SCH will maintain the recycling and composting stations with the goal of diverting 40 percent of trash from the landfill and H-Power.

The crew will also educate competitors, staff and spectators on ways to reduce their impacts on the coastlines by sharing tips on reducing plastic and the destructive impact of single-use plastics.

SCH is also helping to reduce transportation costs.

Recyclables will be donated to families on the North Shore, while food scraps will be composted.

"Partnering with the Vans Triple Crown to increase awareness of the detriments of our overconsumption of plastic is directly in line with our mission of inspiring coastal stewardship," said SCH executive director Kahi Pacarro. "We believe cleaning the beach starts at home, and by encouraging the reduction of waste we can also improve coast quality. Fewer items entering the waste stream equals fewer items able to wash ashore."

To learn more about Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, visit schawaii.org.

No Butts About It

October 14th, 2013
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This cigarette butt, with fresh pink lipstick on it, was on the sand at Kaimana Beach earlier this month, shortly after "Smoking is Prohibited" signs went  up. Photo by Nina Wu.

Someone littered this cigarette butt, with fresh pink lipstick, on the sand at Kaimana Beach earlier this month, shortly after "Smoking is Prohibited" signs went up. Kaimana Beach is now a smoke-free beach. All city beaches and parks will be smoke-free starting Jan. 1, 2014. Photo by Nina Wu. Oct. 5, 2013.

One of my earliest tweets ever was that cigarette butts on the beach are my pet peeve. I tweeted it again on Earth Day this year.

Ask anyone who has ever participated in a beach cleanup and they will tell you — hands down — that cigarette butts are, by far, the most frequently littered item picked up. Ocean Conservancy, which organizes International Coastal Cleanup Day, listed cigarette butts as the No. 1 item cleaned up from beaches worldwide in its 2012 Ocean Trash Index 2.1 million, to be exact.

They are also a pain to pick up because they are small and filthy (they've been in someone's mouth, plus they're made of plastic, which never breaks down, in addition to nasty chemicals) and can get buried in the sand. Besides plastic debris (which you need a sifter to get out), they are the most annoying piece of litter to clean from the beach.

So it's about time that Honolulu passed a law prohibiting smoking at our beaches. Smoking is already prohibited at pretty much the entire sweep of Waikiki beaches, including Kaimana Beach, Kapahulu Groin, Kuhio Beach as well as Sandy Beach Park. Smoking is also prohibited on the grass and picnic areas of all of Kapiolani Regional Park. At Ala Moana Beach Park, smoking is only prohibited on the sandy area, but the entire park will be smoke-free starting Jan. 1. Hanauma Bay has prohibited smoking within the nature preserve since 1993.

I understand that people have the right to smoke, if they want to, even though it's harmful for their health, in the name of freedom of choice. I do believe that there are many responsible smokers who take the care to put out their butts in the trash can or an ashtray, and that not all are littering the beach. But time and time again, smokers clearly are littering our beaches. The evidence is right there in the sand, by the hundreds and thousands over the past few decades, polluting our oceans and marine life.

That's where smokers' rights stop — when they are causing harm to others and to the environment. Furthermore, Oahu's beautiful beaches should not serve as a giant ashtray for locals as well as visitors from around the world. If we keep letting it happen, our beaches won't be beautiful, but blighted — with butts. The damage extends to the coral reef and all the life that it supports.

Starting Jan. 1, all city beaches, parks, swimming pools, playgrounds, athletic fields, tennis courts and bus stops will be smoke-free, as well. To see where all of Honolulu's parks are, visit this link. The fine is $100 for the first offense, up to $500 for the third. Honolulu Police Department will enforce the law, but let's hope people use common courtesy and take their smoking elsewhere.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa is also banning all tobacco products, including cigars, cigarettes and e-cigarettes, on its campus starting next year.

Honolulu is not the first to implement smoke-free beaches. Other municipalities — from Manhattan Beach, Calif. to New York  City have done so, too, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. Click here for a full list. France's Minister of Health, Marisol Touraine, also said she would like to see smoking banned at parks and beaches (coincidentally, it seems, one day after Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed Bills 25 and 28).

Kudos to all of the hard-working volunteers and organizations, like B.E.A.C.H., Surfrider Foundation and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii who work so hard to keep our beaches clean.

To learn more about the law, visit www.b-e-a-c-h.org/smoke-free-beaches. If you have questions, call Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation at 808-768-3003.