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Hawaii's big tree champions

May 22nd, 2012

Coconut tree in Molokai is one of nation's Big Tree winners. DLNR Photo.

Coconut tree in Molokai is one of nation's Big Tree champions. DLNR Photo.

Hawaii is home to six big tree champions, which are now recognized by the National Register of Big Trees, a nonprofit conservation organization that advocates for the protection and expansion of America's forests.

And (drum roll), the six big tree champions are:

* Acacia Koa in Kona Hema Preserve, Hawai‘i
* Two Coconut in Kapuaiwa Coconut Beach Park, Moloka‘i
* Hau tree at Hulihe‘e Palace, Hawaii
* ‘A‘ali‘i at Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, Maui
* Manele/Soapberry at Bird Park/Kipuka Puaulu, Volcano National Park, Hawaii

All of the trees, with the exception of the koa, are accessible to the public. Click here for a map and photos of the trees.

“With forests covering approximately 749 million acres in the U.S., it’s a special honor to have a tree recognized as the biggest of its kind,” said Paul Conry, Administrator of the Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW). “In a year with 14 different billion-dollar weather disasters, America’s biggest trees proved that they’re survivors. For trees to grow bigger than their competition, it usually means that they’ve been protected and nurtured over the years. And, they’ve been lucky. Having grown into large, healthy trees, they now do their own job of protecting and nurturing the plants, trees, wildlife and even humans in their habitats.”

Since more than half of Hawaii's original forest has been lost, immediate action is needed to protect the trees and forests that are essential to Hawaii's water supply and provide many other benefits. Learn about the state's plan to save Hawaii's forests at, which also includes a short video, “The Rain Follows the Forest.”

“We hope that including Hawai‘i on the national Big Trees register will help educate and encourage conservation of our native and culturally important trees,” said Sheri Mann, DOFAW Cooperative Resource Management Forester. “It is our goal to eventually create our own State of Hawai‘i Big Trees Program.”

Anyone can nominate a big tree for recognition in the program. Currently, 21 species are eligible in Hawaii.

To nominate a tree, three measurements are needed: Trunk Circumference (inches), Height (feet), and Average Crown Spread (feet). These are combined to assign the tree a score. DOFAW staff also needs to know the exact location to verify any candidates.

To learn more about the specific measuring requirements please review the guidelines at the American Forests website.

Please send measurements, GPS coordinates or specific directions to a candidate big tree to:

Sheri Mann, CRMF
1151 Punchbowl Street, Room 325
Honolulu, HI  96813

Or email her at

Plastic bags and dog poop

April 26th, 2012

Plastic carryout  bags are expected to be banned in Honolulu starting in 2015, if the mayor signs it into law. Star-Advertiser photo.

Plastic carryout bags are expected to be banned in Honolulu starting in 2015, if the mayor signs it into law. Star-Advertiser photo.

Honolulu City Council passed a bill on Wednesday banning nonbiodegradable plastic bags at checkout starting July 1, 2015.

Well, it's about time, given that the neighbor isles (Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island) have already passed plastic bag bans. Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle still has to sign the bill.

So what if there's a plastic bag ban in Honolulu?

The first reaction you get from most folks opposed to the ban is — what am I going to line my wastebaskets with from now on, and from dog owners,  how am I going to pick up my dog's poop? I've had this conversation at the dog park, and there are some owners who are really resolute about their right to a plastic bag just for this very reason.

Finding alternatives to line your wastebasket with is tricky, I'll admit. I do reuse stray plastic bags (that somehow get sneaked into the house) to line the wastebasket.

But for the last two to three years, I've  been bringing my own bags to the grocery store and more and more, to other retail stores as well — or sometimes, simply saying, "No Thanks." I never really understood why you would need a small, plastic bag if you were simply buying a candy bar or bag of potato chips — couldn't you just take the receipt and put it straight into your purse or backpack?

As the owner of a Springer spaniel named Kona — and as the official dog walker in the family — yes, I do have the unglamorous task of picking up her poop. I haven't really found it difficult since switching to reusable bags.

The bag ban would not affect the bags used to package loose fruit, vegetables and nuts, nor does it affect newspaper bags.

We have a newspaper delivered to the door every morning, sometimes in just one bag and sometimes two. These bags actually are the perfect size for picking up dog poop – I find grocery bags to be more unwieldy, with a flyaway effect.

Bread bags also work — every time we go through a loaf of bread, I save the bag and reuse it.  It still probably isn't the greenest choice — maybe someone some day will invent a new way to pick up dog poop.

There's such a plethora of plastic bags in our lives that honestly, it's not a big deal to give up plastic checkout bags. It's nice to get rid of the plastic  bag monster under the sink.

If it came down to it, I suppose using biobags would be a greener option — they do cost money, but they work fine.

Still, the detrimental effects of plastic in the ocean is far greater than the inconvenience. I'm not just talking about choking up turtles — I'm talking about the health of the ocean's ecosystem and in turn, the health of humans who are interconnected with that ecosystem.

Now, we could have considered a fee for plastic and paper checkout bags, which was effective in Washington DC. The bill in the state legislature seeking to place a 10-cent fee on plastic and paper checkout bags stalled this session, though it had the backing of both retailers and environmental groups like the Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club Hawaii.

But really, we can live without plastic (and paper) checkout bags. Just bring your own bag.

My Bokashi Bucket

February 20th, 2012

Here is my Bokashi Bucket, filled with apple, banana peels and rice.

Here is my Bokashi Bucket, filled with apple and banana peels, old rice and macaroni.

Since writing about Throw To Grow, I've decided to give the Bokashi Bucket a try.

The Bokashi Bucket, in case you haven't heard of it, is an anaerobic composting system that ferments your food waste (including meat, dairy and bones) into rich, gardening soil. It's basically a 5-gallon bucket tucked inside of another one with a spigot that you can keep indoors in your kitchen.

Each One Teach One Farms entrepreneur Jim DiCarlo sells the bucket systems at Haleiwa, Ala Moana and Hawaii Kai Farmers' Markets. You can also find them at Kale's Natural Foods and the North Shore Organic Gardening in Waialua.

If you're handy, you could probably pick up two buckets from Lowe's, Home Depot or City Mill and make the system yourself, except for the activator mix (basically bran mixed with molasses and microorganisms), which is a more involved process. Jim sells a jar of the mix for just $5 at farmers' markets.

What I like about it, so far, is that it seems easy to use.

I keep my bucket on a little step stool in the kitchen, next to the trash can. Once a day, or once every other day, you take your food scraps, open the lid up, toss them in and close the lid again. When the food scraps are at about three inches, you take your jar of bokashi activator mix (basically bran mixed with microorganisms and molasses) and sprinkle some on top.

I wouldn't say it's completely odorless. Hopefully I'm doing it right, but there is definitely a sort of sweet and sour, pickled smell every time I open up the bucket.

It's not pleasant, but it's not horribly unpleasant, either. My husband says he can tell every time I open the lid, because he gets a whiff, but it usually goes away after we turn on the kitchen ceiling fan for a few minutes.

So far, I've thrown all kinds of stuff in the bucket — orange peels, avocado and banana peels, apple cores, celery, ginger, egg shells, old pasta, old rice, a whole head of lettuce that went bad, a whole box of granola cereal (that some ants had gotten into), a whole rotisserie chicken carcass and salmon skin.

The word "bokashi" has turned into a verb in our household. Now I say, "Are you done with this? Should I bokashi it?"

My bucket is about half full, so far. When you open up the bucket, you won't see any transformation of the food yet. Apparently that happens after it all goes into the ground.

So far, so good.

Some things that are good to know: You want to only add fresh, not rotten (or moldy) food or it will smell. It's a good idea to place a paper or ceramic plate on top to basically compress all the air down. It's best also to keep the bucket away from sunlight.

For more tips on using the Bokashi Bucket, go to

We have a worm composting bin, as well, in the garage, and usually I put on gloves to open the lid, move aside the shredded paper, before tossing in food scraps. Separating the worms from the vermicompost is a messy chore in itself (I make my husband do it). What's nice about the worms is that you can throw moldy stuff in there. What I find challenging is that we usually have way more food scraps than the worms can process (since we just started with a small starter kit, which took a year to grow into a small bin). I often wonder whether it might be good to invest in  a Can-O-Worms system that can take more food waste.

The bucket doesn't take up a lot of space, but seems to be able to handle the volume. So far it's not too much of a hassle to throw the food scraps in there. My dog sniffs the bucket lid with interest every time I open it, but she's not too interested in digging through it (thank goodness). I can't wait to see how this all works once the bucket contents go into the ground. Will keep you posted.

Here's a cool video from Kasha Ho at Kanu Hawaii explaining how she tried out her Bokashi Bucket: Bokashi "Unbucketing" from Kasha Ho on Vimeo.

Limited edition: Envirosax's water-inspired collection

February 15th, 2012

Some proceeds from this limited edition Envirosax bag will go to the Surfrider Foundation's Rise Above Plastics campaign.

Design by surf-inspired painter Ned Evans.

If you're looking for a fashionable way to bring your own bag, check out Envirosax's water-inspired collection for the Surfrider Foundation. They can be found under the graphic series and cost $10.95 each.

These three designs feature artwork from the Foundation's artist friends Ned Evans, Robb Havassy and Melinda Morey (who grew up on Kauai).

With the collection, Envirosax and the Surfrider Foundation hope to raise awareness of the issue of single-use plastics in our marine environments.

Envirosax is donating 50 cents from every  bag sold to the Surfrider Foundation's Rise Above Plastics campaign.

Design by Melinda Morey, who grew up on Kauai.

Design by Melinda Morey, who grew up on Kauai.

"Our oceans, lakes and waterways are beautiful elements of nature we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy," said Envirosax CEO Belinda Coker. "We hope to inspire everyone to reuse. One tiny change is like a drop of water into a pond – it has the power of creating a big ripple effect..."

Two bills pending in the Hawaii State Legislature — House Bill 2260 and Senate Bill 2511 — propose requiring businesses to charge a 10-cent fee for every single-use checkout bag (paper and plastic) provided to a customer.


Design by California surfer artist Robb Havassy.

A percentage of the fees are supposed to go to a "natural area reserve fund" towards the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' watershed initiative. The bill does not include produce bags (which you use to put apples and vegetables in), newspaper bags or dry cleaning bags.

Maui and Kauai counties already passed a ban on plastic checkout bags, in effect for about a year, with Hawaii county planning to follow suit next year. Honolulu county is the only county without a plastic bag policy in place.

The Oahu chapter of Surfrider Foundation supports the bill, along with the Sierra Club and supermarkets such as Safeway and Times.

Last year, Washington D.C. passed a law charging 5-cents for every plastic and paper disposable bag customers use when buying food or alcohol. In December, the Seattle City Council took a different tact, voting unanimously to ban plastic bags and set a 5-cent fee for paper bags. Seattle initially proposed a 20-cent fee on paper and plastic bags three years ago, but voters rejected the initiative.

Whatever happens in Honolulu, if you want to make it a personal habit to bring your own bag, you can do so any time. Supermarkets like Foodland, Down To Earth and Whole Foods currently offer 5-cents credit for customers who bring in their own bags at checkout.

My favorite reusable bags are lightweight, easy to carry in a pocket or handbag (if you roll them up like an umbrella) as well as stylish. You can use them to carry groceries home or as beach bags and lunch totes.

Visit to find more designs.

The "Bag Bill"

February 8th, 2012

A random plastic carryout bag that found its way to the beach. Photo by Nina Wu.

A random plastic carryout bag that found its way to the beach. Photo by Nina Wu.

Most Americans use a takeout plastic bag for an average of 15 minutes before throwing it away. Yet that bag, wherever it ends up — in the ocean or the landfill — will take hundreds and hundreds of years to break down.

If you support a reduction in single-use plastic bags, then tomorrow is your chance to show it at the state Capitol.

Two bills — HB2260 and SB2511 — are before the state legislature. A public hearing for the bill is scheduled before the Senate in conference room 225 at 2:45 p.m. on Thursday (Feb. 8).

House Bill 2260 would require businesses in the state to collect a fee for single-use checkout bags provided to a customer. Businesses would be allowed to keep 20 percent of the fees for the first year, and 10 percent of fees thereafter, subject to income and general excise taxes.

The Hawaii Food Industry Association, which represents many major supermarkets in Hawaii, actually supports the bill. In the past, the group opposed outright bans of plastic checkout bags which were proposed in bills in previous years. Safeway and Times also wrote letters supporting SB2511.

The Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation are rallying the public for support tomorrow.

Expect to see some 400 plastic and paper bags (the number an average person uses in a year) strewn over the Capitol lawn during a press conference at 1:45 p.m. tomorrow at the Capitol Rotunda.

Diana Sellner, a Girl Scout, and students from elementary schools and universities, will be on hand. The plastic bag monster is also expected to make an appearance.

Earlier this year, Hawaii county became the third in the state to ban plastic checkout bags at businesses. Hawaii county's law goes into effect next year. Maui and Kauai counties have already passed similar laws for about a year. Honolulu is the only remaining county without a plastic bag bill in place.

If the bill passes, it would not revoke existing bans on the neighbor isles.

For updates and more information on the "Bag Bills," visit the Sierra Club's Capitol Watch Opala Blog, Plastic Free Kailua's blog, and Kanu Hawaii's "5 questions (and answers) about plastic bag bills."

Consumer Watchdog challenges Hyundai's 40 MPG claims

February 3rd, 2012

Is your car's mileage really what it was advertised to be?

Consumer Watchdog has called Hyundai out on its "40 Miles Per Gallon" claim about the Elantra in an ad slated to run during the Super Bowl. Hyundai has pulled the 40 MPG claim but says it was not influenced by Consumer Watchdog.

The group has a counter-advertisement posted on YouTube, noting professional testers at Consumers Union were only able to achieve 29 MPG in combined city and highway tests of the 2011 Elantra, 12 percent below the company's claim of 33 MPG.

Consumer Watcdog has urged the Environmental Protection Agency to re-test the 2011 and 2012 Elantra. Hyundai tested its original MPG tests, the basis for its EPA-certified claim of 50 MPG highway, 29 MPG city and 33 MPG in combined driving.

But real-world reports and professional driving tests report much worse mileage.

Scrutiny over MPG claims is growing after the owner of a Honda Civic hybrid in California won a small-claims court challenge Wednesday on the car's false MPG claims.

"Consumers who increasingly buy cars on the basis of high miles per gallon — then can't get close to the posted figure — are justifiably angry," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. "Hyundai's omission of its touted '40 MPG' claim in its Super Bowl ads, after making a very big deal of it in earlier advertising, shows that the company is hearing the hoofbeats of consumer outrage."

Consumer Watchdog sent a letter Wednesday to Hyundai's U.S. CEO. You can read a copy of the correspondence here.

Humpback whales are here

January 30th, 2012

A mother whale and her calf swim in Hawaiian waters. Photo courtesy of NOAA's  National Marine Fisheries Service.

A mother whale and her calf swim in Hawaiian waters. Photo courtesy of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service.

More than 950 volunteers gathered data from the shores of Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii Island on Saturday as part of NOAA's Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count. The weather conditions for viewing humpback whales were excellent on Saturday.

A total of two whales were sighted every 15 minutes on Oahu, three on Hawaii island and eight on Kauai, according to preliminary data. Volunteers collected data from 61 sites statewide (except on Maui, where the Pacific Whale Foundation conducts an independent whale count).

On Oahu, most sightings seemed to occur at Kualoa Ranch, Pyramid Rock, Hanauma Bay and Halona Blowhole.

Scientific studies have shown the humpback whale population in Hawaii is increasing at an annual rate of about seven percent.

Up to 12,000 humpback whales are found in Hawaiian waters every year. Between November and May, the whales return to their birthplace after migrating as far as Alaska. They return to Hawaiian waters to mate, calve and nurse their young.

A few even surprised us by paying a visit to Honolulu Harbor at the start of the year.

Boaters and other ocean users are asked to remain vigilant during these months. The endangered whales are protected by both federal and state laws. The sanctuary is jointly managed by NOAA and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Two more Sanctuary Ocean Counts are scheduled to take place from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25 and Saturday, March 31. If you're interested in becoming a Sanctuary Ocean Count volunteer, visit or call 1-888-55-WHALE ext. 253.

School phonebook recycling contest

January 21st, 2012

Recycle your phonebooks at Oahu schools as part of Hagadone's first phonebook recycling contest.

Recycle your phonebooks at Oahu schools as part of Hagadone's first phonebook recycling contest.

Hagadone Printing Co. is hosting its first-ever telephone-book recycling contest for Oahu schools.

The contest is open to any school on Oahu, and will feature a first place prize of $2,500 for the school that donates the most phone books. Second place collects $1,000.

Schools must register for the contest online at or on Hagadone's Facebook page. The contest ends on Feb. 29.

Clint Schroeder, Hagadon President says: "It's extremely important that we share the values of protecting the aina with the next generation, and through this contest we can show kids they CAN make a huge positive impact."

Approximately 410,000 tons of phone books find their way to landfills or incinerators, according to the Product Stewardship Institute, costing taxpayers about $60 million each year in management costs.

Hagadone has an industrial shredder/baler system that helps the company recycle 140 tons of waste paper per month.

For more information about the contest, contact Ed Kobayashi at 852-6334 or

Challenge: Finding non-plastic toys

December 5th, 2011

It seems inevitable that you'll end up with a household full of plastic toys, by hand-me-down, gift or purchase, these days.

Plastic, plastic, plastic. It seems inevitable that you'll end up with a household full of plastic toys, by hand-me-down, gift or purchase, these days.

The other day, I walked into a toy store to shop for Christmas gifts, and discovered that 95 percent of everything in there was — plastic.

Other than a small section which featured wooden toys, everything else was plastic, from the beloved Mr. Potato Head to the popular LEGOs to Barbie's convertible car.

This is the generation of plastic toys — from plastic action figures to plastic building sets, fire trucks, cars, plastic play kitchens, plastic guitars, plastic telephones, plastic drumsets, plastic ride-on toys — even outdoor slides, tables, chairs and playhouses made up entirely of plastic.

I understand why plastic is so popular — it's easily moldable into all shapes and colors and sizes, it's waterproof and lightweight. And some of them are pretty cool — there are toys that talk, teach the alphabet, play music, whirl and light up at the push of buttons.

It's inevitable that you'll have some plastic toys in your household, whether by hand-me-down, purchase or gift. I guess if you buy a used plastic toy, it's better than a brand-new one, but then eventually it'll have to be passed on to someone else or go to the landfill. And plastic doesn't break down for hundreds of years.

Having recently been horrified at the sight of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (most of it plastic) on Hawaii's shorelines, I'd like to encourage Santa (and Santa helpers) to find alternatives to plastic toys this holiday season.

A selection of non-plastic toys include a wood bead toy, fabric dog book, Melissa & Doug wood puzzles and Pottery Barn stacker.

A selection of non-plastic toys includes a wood bead toy, fabric dog book, Sevi wooden pull toy, Melissa & Doug wood puzzles, Sophie, a rubber giraffe chew toy, fabric ball, books and Pottery Barn farm animals stacker. Photo by Nina Wu.

To be honest with you, it's not easy.

But there are some alternatives. Melissa & Doug's wood puzzles and toys are widely available (I even found a Melissa & Doug wood train set at discount at Ross). You can also, of course, opt for stuffed toys made out of fabric or cloth.


This cute "Fun on the Farm" animal stacker from Pottery Barn is still available online. Other brands include Plan Toys.

Books are also great — they never go out of style. Dr. Seuss is as popular today as he was a generation ago ("Dr. Seuss can moo, can you?" is a blast).

Locally, you can find some "green" toys at Baby Awearness (Read the Let's Talk Toys blog with Julliet Lowe) and Little Sprouts. Some options include Green Toys, which makes toy trucks and cars and play sand toys made from recycled plastic.

In Let's Talk Toys, Lowe says to consider: 1) Is it about quality or quantity? A quality toy lasts for a lifetime versus a cheaply made quantity toy which breaks in a short time. 2) Is the toy beautiful? Toys made from natural materials are usually more satisfying than those made from plastic, particle board or other synthetic materials. 3) Does the toy smell? Some toys have a strong plastic or perfumed smell.

I like the idea of quality over quantity, especially when you know the novelty factor is only going to last for so long before your kid moves on to another toy.

It's not easy, but this holiday season, challenge Santa to find some non-plastic toys.

Hawaii's first carrotmob

November 16th, 2011

Get ready for Hawaii's first Carrotmob this Saturday at The Wine Stop. Photo from

Get ready for Hawaii's first Carrotmob this Saturday at The Wine Stop. Photo from

Get ready for Hawaii's first Carrotmob.

What is Carrotmob, you ask? It's "a new way for people to change businesses. In a boycott, everyone loses. In a Carrotmob, everyone wins." It's a concept started by a San Francisco-based non-profit. You can watch a cartoon explanation here.

LOGO FACEBOOKThe state's first carrotmob is being organized by KYA Sustainability Studio, which is encouraging shoppers to buy a bottle of wine or beer between 1 to 5 p.m. this Saturday (Nov. 19) at The Wine Stop at 1809 S. King St.

Here's how it works: KYA Sustainability Studio organizes Carrotmob, encouraging people to shop at The Wine Stop this Saturday afternoon. The Wine Stop, a local business, has agreed to direct 80 percent of sales generated by Carrotmob towards a retrofit of the building's energy system. (KYA Sustainability Studio, by the way, is just down the street from The Wine Stop).

For every $20 spent, mobbers will also receive raffle tickets for prize giveaways sponsored by Mobi PCS.

The Wine Stop — which is owned by Kamehameha Schools grad Liane Fu and business partner Kim Karalovich — has already had an energy audit completed of its small, orange-colored, one-story store, complimentary of Energy Industries LLC. The Wine Stop plans to replace existing lights with more energy-efficient LED lights, and install Energy Star rated walk-in refrigeration components. It also hopes to save up for a full air-conditioning retrofit as well as a solar PV system down the line.

"It makes sense because if we continue using our natural resources to the extent that we are, then it's going to be a horror movie," said Fu. "Right now, we don't feel it, but in the future it will be felt. I feel that we need to focus on sustainable choices now to prevent disaster in the future."

It's also a creative way to help Hawaii reach its goal of energy independence. Let's hope there will be more carrotmobs to come. You can learn more by visiting

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