Archive for the ‘Plastic’ Category

A plastic Easter

April 14th, 2014

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.


>> 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 See eggs below. Aren't they  beautiful?

Find the blog "How to Dye Easter Eggs Naturally: at

Find the blog "How to Dye Easter Eggs Naturally: at

Bottle Caps

March 10th, 2014

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 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!



The sorting line

February 23rd, 2014


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, 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


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

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. 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

No Butts About It

October 14th, 2013

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 If you have questions, call Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation at 808-768-3003.

Rise Above Plastics

October 4th, 2013

Our ocean is turning into a plastic soup. Image courtesy Flickr/CesarHarada on

Our ocean is turning into a plastic soup. Image courtesy Flickr/CesarHarada on

The Surfrider Foundation and Teva are bringing back "Rise Above Plastics Month" in October, with the goal of educating people on the threats that single-use plastics pose to marine environments.


"Plastic is the most common type of marine litter worldwide, comprising up to 90 percent of floating marine debris," says Laura Lee, Surfrider's director of marketing and communications.

Once again, Surfrider and Teva are offering the third annual "One Foot at a Time" plastic cleanup and art contest. To participate, artists collect one square foot of trash from their beach or community, then use the material to create a mosaic sculpture using one of the "Rise Above Plastics" templates.

This year, the templates are Halloween-themed, and include a bat, pumpkin, ghost, spider, skull or the Teva logo.

Snap a photo and email to Prizes for winners include gear from Teva, Firewire Surfboards and the Surfrider Foundation. Also, anyone who renews their Surfrider Foundation membership or donates $35 this month receives two Halloween-themed, reusable ChicoBags.

Here's a look at the single-use plastics we use on a daily basis in Honolulu (and simple ways to change this):

>> Plastic forks, spoons and knives. I admit to being guilty on this one, even though I know better, often when getting takeout lunch during the work week. The solution is simple — just bring your own fork from home or buy one of those bamboo utensil sets that you can carry with you (which I have, but often forget). At the very least, if you forget, you can always reuse plastic forks, turning them from single-use to multiple-use.

>> Plastic cups and straws. If you're a daily iced coffee or espresso drinker like me, then you probably get a single-use plastic cup and straw which you throw away after you're done drinking your beverage. The solution is to bring your own cup and reusable straw. Starbucks and many other cafes sell them. Starbucks even gives you a 10-cent discount for bringing a personal cup, which adds up after awhile.

>> Plastic grocery bags. Sure, we all reuse them to line our trash cans or to pick up dog poop, but there are so many times when the bags are unnecessary. If you bring your own bags to the grocery store, kudos to you! I've been pretty good about this one for the past few years. You can reduce plastic bags further by also bringing your own bag to retail stores, which I've been trying to do more often. Also, sometimes you can just say, "No thanks!" if you really don't have that much stuff. If you are just buying a handful of apples at the store, you don't always need to bag them. Just let the cashier ring them up loose, then throw in your reusable bag.

>> Plastic bottles. Most of us are aware that those plastic bottles for water, soda and juices are worth 5-cents apiece if you redeem them at Reynold's Recvycling. If you don't have the time to do so, then you can donate them or throw them into your blue bin for curbside pickup. So there's no excuse for NOT recycling plastic beverage bottles. On the other hand, it would be better to REDUCE the plethora of single-use plastic bottles by bringing a reusable bottle to fill up with water from the cooler, tap or fountain.

>> Plastic ziplock  bags: I confess to being guilty on this one, too. I often use ziplocks to pack snacks for my son, but what we can do to reduce the use of plastic is to simply wrap sandwiches in a napkin, wax paper or how about aluminum foil? You can also buy a reusable sandwich or snack bag from ChicoBag or LunchSkins.

>> Halloween Trick-or-Treat bags: Instead of plastic, go for felt buckets or good-quality, reusable bags that you can reuse year after year. I found an adorable, felt bucket shaped like a pumpkin for my son to use at Halloween last year. We'll be bringing it out and using it again this year.

The whole mission of Rise Above Plastics is to just be more aware. RAP is also a good reminder for those of us who already know, to remember, and to do better.

Most plastic pollution at sea starts out as litter on land, including beaches, streets and sidewalks, according to Surfrider. After plastics enter the marine environment, they slowly photodegrade and break down into smaller pieces that fish and turtles mistake for food. Our ocean is turning into plastic soup.

If you're interested in learning more, visit Surfrider's Rise Above Plastics page or check out this great educational toolkit. Surfrider also offers these 10 simple ways to rise above plastics.

A Plastic Free Life

September 17th, 2013

A photo of a dead bird with its belly full of plastic is what convinced Beth Terry of Oakland, Calif. to start living a plastic-free life. in June 2007. She was recovering from surgery when she saw the picture and an article, called "Our Oceans Are Turning Into Plastic....Are We?" (featuring the findings of Capt. Charles Moore).

Plastic-Free-book-photo-front-500-375Terry, the author of "Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too" and (formerly fake plastic fish) blogger, will be speaking at various venues in Honolulu Sept. 20 to 22.

She'll be offering personal anecdotes and statistics on the environment and health problems related to plastic, as well as personal solutions and tips. She is also You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Here's a schedule (the presentations are free):

>> Friday, Sept. 20, 4:15-6:15 p.m. at University Laboratory School, Honolulu

>> Saturday, Sept. 21, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Ma‘ili Point, following the International Coastal Cleanup

>> Sunday, Sept. 22, 2:30-3:30 p.m. at The Art Explorium, Kaimuki

Visit the Kokua Hawaii Foundation's website or email for more info. Don't forget to bring a reusable water bottle!

Hawaii island's plastic bag law now in place

January 17th, 2013



Thursday, Jan. 17 marks the first day that the "plastic bag reduction ordinance" goes into effect on Hawaii island.

Single-use plastic bags will be allowed for the first year of this new law if a fee is charged for each bag, according to a statement issued by the County of Hawaii Department of Environmental Management. Businesses will set the fee and keep the revenue. Paper bags are permitted.

But many stores have already opted to stop using plastic checkout bags, encouraging customers instead to bring their own reusable bags.

The new law does not include plastic bags without handles used for meat, produce, bulk items, garments and prescription drugs. Non-profit groups are also exempt.

Businesses caught violating the ordinance will be issued a warning letter first, followed by a civil fine of $250 per day for a second violation and $500 per day for the third violation.

Visit for a copy of the ordinance, rules and more information. Contact the department's Solid Waste and Recycling offices at 808-961-8270 if you have questions.

It's Raptoberfest time

October 10th, 2012

Claire Flynt, last year's best overall winner of "One Foot at a Time" - Photo from

Claire Flynt, last year's best overall winner of "One Foot at a Time" - Photo from

It's Raptoberfest time.

That's the Rise Above Plastics version of Oktoberfest. The Surfrider Foundation kicked off the second annual "Raptober" celebration earlier last week - it's a month-long effort to educate and inspire the public to eliminate plastic waste from our oceans.

"Each year millions of seabirds, fish and marine mammals die due to ingestion of, or entanglement in plastic," said Bill Hickman, Surfrider Foundation's Rise Above Plastic Program Coordinator. "By dedicating the entire month of October toward educating the public on the effects of marine plastics, we hope to jump start their desire to reduce their own personal plastic footprints and the amount of litter reaching our seas."

Some simple things you can do (as illustrated by Raptoberfest cartoons) include:

>> If you see a friend drinking out of a plastic water bottle, encourage them to switch to a reusable water bottle.

>> If you see a a friend using a single-use plastic bag, offer them a reusable bag.

>> During the week of Oct. 15, join or renew your membership to the Surfrider Foundation for a discount of $30 and get a wallet or pocketbook handmade from upcycled plastic bags collected from Bali beaches.

Read more at "10 Ways" to reduce your plastic footprint.

Participate in the "One Foot at a Time" plastic cleanup challenge again. Here's how it works: Participants collect one square foot of trash from their beach or community, then use the material to create a unique mosaic sculpture using one of five downloadable templates on the Foundation's Raptober event website.

The Foundation will judge photo submissions of the sculptures. Winners get cool surfgear, including a surfboard, from Rusty.

Visit for more about the contest.