Boosting Hawaii’s Eco-Attitude

Susan Page
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Wednesday - June 22, 2005
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When it comes to recycling, we need a new attitude. An eco-attitude.

I frequently visit three cities: Boulder, Colo., where my sister and mother live, Arlington, Va., where my daughter lives, and Austin, Texas, where I have lots of cousins. I also go to Japan to visit my son.

Each of these places has a comprehensive recycling program and has for years. (Boulder since 1976.) Here at home, I’m ashamed that recycling has been such a disgracefully low priority.

Yes, we’re finally poised for curbside recycling and that’s a big positive. Mililani already experienced a successful pilot program that unfortunately ended because of a labor dispute with the UPW (Don’t get me started). Fed up with schlepping stuff to the stinky recycle bin at the high school that requires an L.A. Laker to reach, I’m anxious for that shiny blue recycle bin that will be picked up at my house.

Even with the promised curbside recycling and the much ballyhooed, yet still dubious, Bottle Bill (that is really a tax), we’re still missing something in Hawaii: I call it an eco-attitude, and it isn’t a Democrat, Republican, Ralph Nader or Green Party exclusive. Colorado has one, even with vast space for landfills. Austin, Texas does, too. And Japan is even getting one. It’s about individual pride in keeping your home (state) clean and safe and sustainable. It’s being committed to doing everything possible for conservation and recycling. It’s about creative leadership and dedication.

In Boulder, Eco-Cycle, the non-profit organization that runs the city’s recycling program, has a goal: zero waste. It has instituted an innovative program at its farmer’s market whereby each vendor uses “compostable alternatives” for things that previously generated trash, like plates, bowls, cups, straws and lids. The alternative products are made from corn, wheat, sugarcane or other natural starches as opposed to plastic or plasticcoated paper that fills “landfills for decades” (and stays there for centuries!).


Eco-cycle sees composting as a long-term global pollution solution. “Burying organic materials in a landfill generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to the global issue of climate change. Composting returns valuable nutrients to the natural cycle and helps local farmers restore depleted soils.” Eco-attitude is about being conscious of what you purchase, consume and throw away.

There can also be a financially practical side to an ecoattitude: Arlington (Virginia) County estimates that recycling one ton of materials at the curb (on average) saves the county $17 over disposing of this material at the Waste to Energy facility, where Arlington’s trash goes. Back in 1998 alone, our business community recycled 500,000 tons. You do the math.

With an eco-attitude we should also consciously try to generate less trash. My cousin Carol says that in Austin, they get charged extra if they have too much in their regular trash bin. “It just makes us all more aware of what we consume and forces us to minimize our trash.”

With tourists from all over the world coming here, we have a perfect opportunity to set a great “eco” example. Where are the recycling containers at the airport? At Tokyo’s Narita airport, there is a separate recycle bin for more than one disposable item. (Check out Starbucks Tokyo for the ultimate experience in separating your trash.) It sends a bad message to tourists from areas where recycling is routine when there are no public recycle bins for their soda cans or plastic water bottles as they stroll Kalakaua Avenue. And what about state parks and the stadium, places that generate literally tons of recyclables?

Still, Hawaii’s businesspeople, upon whom the burden for just about everything in this state falls, have led the way in recycling here, though nobody hears about it. Back in 1992, they formed the Partnership for the Environment and “continue to be the driving force behind successful recycling in our beautiful island home,” according to the City and County recycling web site www.opala.org. Once again, the business community, which has to absorb the greatest cost, emerges as the leader. Now that’s an eco-attitude.

From our political leadership, we need a long-term strategic plan, vision, clear communication, the right tools, a campaign to educate and a commitment to the environment. From us citizens, we should strive for zero waste. What a great goal!

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