A walk in nature

There’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of nature. So, over the holidays I decided to take a little walk in nature in New Zealand – one of the most beautiful places in the world. Still, I wondered before I got there if it would have the same issues with plastic waste as other places I have been recently.

This trip sent me to Wellington and then Picton where a boat took us to the start of the Queen Charlotte Track in the famous Marlborough wine region. For five glorious days, we hiked the sometimes difficult pathway to see breathtaking views of the area.

Views from the Queen Charlotte Track
Views from the Queen Charlotte Track

I even had a chance to go out for a paddle where we saw Eagle rays and a seal sunning himself on the back of a small yacht.

Wildlife sightings along the Queen Charlotte Track.
Wildlife sightings

What I didn’t see was a lot of rubbish which was really surprising, especially in the harbours. Instead, I saw just two pieces: a floating plastic bag that we couldn’t reach and a famous bottle where a tree decided to grow around it.

Rubbish sightings on the Queen Charlotte Track
Rubbish sightings on the Queen Charlotte Track

This was incredible given the number of backpackers and boat traffic we saw there. It could only mean that everyone was doing their part to keep the environment clean.

And it was likely the little things that made a difference. All of our packed lunches were in paper bags (and so were offered shopping bags). I was given a recyclable container for my salad which was of a much stronger material than what you normally see in Australia. Bamboo utensils and paper straws were the norm everywhere. We were encouraged to refill our drink bottles from the taps.

I especially liked the reusable coffee cup the tour operator gave us for our daily morning teas. No council in New Zealand recycles coffee cups. So this was a really nice and practical souvenir.

Reusable souvenir coffee cup

While I haven’t had a chance to research their recycling situation in New Zealand, overall I have to say that I was really impressed by how clean this part of the country was during my walk in nature. And they seem to have done this by focussing more on the reduction of plastic waste – a lesson all communities can easily adopt.

Recycling in Hawaii

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.

Fake advertising of an eco product
Eco chopsticks? What happened to the paper cover?

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.

Wakiki Yacht Club at night and in reality
Wakiki Yacht Club at night and in reality

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.