This week, I’m in Honolulu for a small family reunion. While I’m technically on vacation, I can’t help notice the challenges of recycling in Hawaii, specifically on this island of Oahu.
All of the pictures that they show on tourists web pages or social media accounts can be deceiving as I can’t help notice both the rubbish and the lack of plastic reduction measures on the island. This in itself feels so wrong when native Hawaiians are especially conscious about the land like most indigenous cultures.
There does seem to be multiple groups trying to help the waste issue here, particularly ocean waste. In fact, I was invited to a clean-up on the North Shore on Sunday (which I’ll unfortunately miss) where rubbish collects on the beaches from the Great Pacific Trash Patch.
While this is not necessarily trash that originates from Hawaii, there is an issue locally too. For one, very few big hotels in Waikiki provide even the most simple options such as plastic straws or cutlery alternatives. And just about every glass of water also comes with a straw without thought.
Today, I was actually given disposable chopsticks wrapped in plastic and labelled, “Eco.” Normally, these things are in a paper wrapper. So, even the usually better alternative to plastic utensils wasn’t available.
Where does rubbish go on an island?
So what happens when so much rubbish is generated on an island paradise? Too much of it ends up in the storm water drains and eventually goes into the ocean, just like the picture below at the Yacht Club.
Recycling in Hawaii is failing
Unfortunately, it looks like things are getting worse for recycling in Hawaii just like the places I visited in mainland USA in August. Since China and other countries put their recycled material import ban in place last year, the price of mixed plastics in particular have dropped dramatically.
While Oahu is still accepting #1 and #2 plastics, as of October 2019, Hawaii County which covers the big island is no longer accept any plastics or paper. This is exactly what happened to my parent’s hometown in September.
I’m not convinced that Hawaii was doing much recycling before everything happened with exports. Certainly the idea of “reducing” single-use plastics is not front of mind at the moment – for most of the people or businesses here. So, the question becomes, what happens to the rest of the rubbish now if recycling in Hawaii is no longer an option? It’s not like they have a lot of space for more landfills here.