Plastic is an amazing material. It can be flexible, hard, waterproof, and beyond. Plastic allows for all kinds of medical and technological advances, such a IV bags, car parts, and modern appliances. The dangerous paradox is that along with plastic's durability and convenience can come hazardous consequences for the health of our planet and our bodies.
Waste in Hawaii
Hawaii, especially Oahu, is at a crucial moment for waste management. Our environment, including our oceans and reefs, are also at a critical point due to current practices for retrieving and using natural resources, such as our dependence on petroleum and the convenience of single-use items, which effect climate change and pollution.
Despite the efforts of the H-Power waste-to-energy program, high rates of recycling, and a 62% overall landfill diversion rate, our facilities and landfills are overwhelmed. Waimanalo Gulch Landfill accepts about 154,000 tons of solid municipal waste every year and the two boilers at H-Power currently burn about 430,000 tons of trash every year. However, the total amount of waste generated on
Oahu was 1,575,000 tons in 2009. 20,000 tons of Municipal trash that sat at Kalaeloa for over a year cannot be shipped to the mainland, and sending our trash out of sight is not a sustainable solution. According to a City study, in 2006, 14% of the waste sent to H-Power, and 4.6% of the waste sent to the landfill were plastics. That's almost 114,000 tons of wrappers, bottles, and bags that could not be or were not recycled.
We feel that addressing the issue of single-use plastic consumption is a great way to start alleviating this crisis. The harmful costs of single-use plastics, outlined below, stretches from the oil it takes to produce it, to the health of the consumer, to the cost of disposal, and finally to the marine ecosystems it wrecks. Working together we can make a difference for our neighborhood, island, and world.
Step 1: Get THE FACTS about Plastic
A message from Dr. Wallace J. Nichols
• Plastic is forever.
Plastic is a material that the Earth cannot digest. It does not biodegrade, but photo-degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. Every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists, except the small amount that has been incinerated. When burned, plastic emits toxic air and particulate pollution in the form of dioxins and furans, both carcinogenic compounds. (PPC)
•Consumption of single use and disposable plastics has spiraled out of control. Plastic products represent around 12% of our nation’s (not recycled) municipal solid waste stream. Nationally, estimates show we purchase we purchase over 30 billion liters of bottled water each year. Americans also use over 100 billion plastic bags each year.
• Single-use plastics and disposable plastics are the main source of plastic pollution. A plastic fork is used for seconds, hours, or days, but its remains will last hundreds of years. Disposable plastic bottles can last 450 years or longer in most landfill conditions.
• Hawaiian ecosystems are affected by the oceanic gyres.
Patches of plastic pollution cover millions of square miles of ocean in the North Pacific and in other world oceans. There is no known way to clean up the plastic pollution in the oceans: the plastic particles are very small and circulate throughout the entire water column. This plastic ends up in the stomachs of marine birds and animals. In fact, one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die globally each year due to ingestion of or entanglement in plastics.
• Recycling is not a sustainable solution when it comes to plastic.
Recycling and composting will reduce the amount of waste going to disposal sites. However, unlike glass or metal, recycling plastic is costly and does not stem the production of virgin plastic products. Most of our plastic waste is landfilled, downcycled or exported to other countries with lighter regulations for working with dangerous chemicals. Not all plastic is the same. Learn about types of plastic here. In the US, less than 30% of PET products are recycled. That's Type 1 and 2 containers such as water bottles (not lids) and grocery bags. Less than 1% of Type 3, 4, 6, or 7 are recycled. Oahu Opala redemption centers only accept Type 1 and 2.
• Plastic is poisoning our food chain and affects human health.
The chemicals in plastic that make it hard or pliable are not inert as originally thought. Harmful chemicals such as Bisphenol-A, Styrene, phthalates, and DEHA can be leached by plastic and Styrofoam food storage containers, even tin and aluminum can liners, into our food or drink. In the environment, as plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, it is ingested by wildlife on land and in the ocean contaminating our food chain. BPA and phthalates are endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with the hormone system in our body. These chemicals are already present in the bloodstream and tissues of almost every one of us, including newborns. They pose the most danger to children and women of childbearing age. BPA is not currently regulated in the US, but is banned from baby bottles across Europe and Canada. BPA is also banned as a liner in tin cans in Japan. The only companies in the US to do this are Muir Glen and Eden Organic. Under pressure, Campbell's is reported to be switching soon.
• Ditching plastic can save money and resources. Take, for example, one of the biggest villains in our plastic waste stream: bottled water. We gulp down this manufactured demand at a price often higher than gasoline. If you buy two $1.50 bottles of water from the vending machine each week, that’s $156 dollars a year, or $11.34 per gallon! (Multiply the cost of a .5L water bottle by 7.57 for price/gallon.) But bottled water is not FDA regulated nor safer than tap water. Further, bottlers often deplete local municipal sources here and abroad. (Message in a Bottle, Tapped)
The creation and the transportation of plastic packaging depend entirely on non-renewable fossil fuels such as petroleum and natural gas. If you fill a PET bottle about one-third of the way full, that is how much oil it takes to make and move your water. The Pacific Institute estimates that in 2006: 1)Producing the bottles for American consumption required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation; 2) Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide; 3) It took 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water.
American cities spend an estimated $64 billion in tax dollars for plastic bag clean up from roads, parks, and waterways. That's $.17 per bag in San Francisco. A recent Los Angeles case study showed bag clean up costs at $.21 per bag. Additionally, consumers actually pay around $15 to $37.50 a year in hidden costs for so-called free bags at check out.
Step 2: Embrace the Alternatives
• Visit our ACT page to find out simple solutions for reducing your plastic footprint.
• Reduce, Reuse, Bring your own
• Carry reusable bags to the grocery, farmer's market, or on any other shopping excursion.
• Carry a reusable water bottle, filled with tap water.
• Bring your own take-out container out to eat for leftovers.
• Refuse plastic bags, Styrofoam, and unnecessary packaging.
• Demand the vendors you patronize provide alternative or less packaging.
• Consider ways to reduce plastic consumption in your home.
• Join or organize a beach clean-up.
The possibilities for change are simple, but they begin with you.
Step 3: Connect with Others to Build a Movement
Join PFK as a volunteer or business coalition member. Help us as we contact representatives about bag bans and other policy changes. Join us when we clean the beach. Be a positive supporter as we seek to bolster community awareness.
Sources of information:
See our Links page for more!