Plastic Waste in Hawaii’s Oceans

Nov 12, 2020 | General Information

Almost every day there’s another announcement from community leaders in Hawaii about initiatives to protect the state’s environment. Just recently, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu announced its elimination of the sale of all single-use plastics on its campus. The museum’s campaign intends to serve as a positive example of sustainable practices and conservation in Hawaii.

The Museum is going even further to show its commitment to sustainability. In addition to eliminating the sale of all single-use plastics, the Museum has also installed water bottle filling stations throughout its campus. New signage is posted to help teach visitors about the impact of reducing single-use plastics. The museum’s educators are incorporating a waste-free lunch curriculum into the museum’s field trip materials. The museum even has installed an interactive sculpture, named the Plastic Free Pipeline, made from 2,000 feet of fishing nets and marine debris collected from Kahuku Beach on Oahu’s North Shore. Our congratulations to the museum and the artist-scientist who created the sculpture, Ethan Estess.

For this initiative the museum partnered with Kokua Hawaii Foundation’s Plastic Free Hawaii and the Surfrider Foundation. Both other these nonprofits, and their local partners, sponsor beach cleanups on each island that visitors often will see while engaging in watersports. For example, at Kailua Beach on Oahu, the watersport company, Kailua Beach Adventures leads beach cleanups sponsored by the Kokua Hawaii Foundation.

Plastic refuse washing up on Hawaii’s beaches is just a symptom of the state’s larger plastics problem. Hawaii’s unique position in the Pacific Ocean provides wonderful warm waters but also ensures that thousands of pounds of microplastics wash up on its beaches every year. Rough ocean waves relentlessly grind larger plastic items into microplastics. The Hawaiian islands sit in the middle of a system of circulating ocean currents that funnel these microplastics to its windward beaches. Unfortunately microplastics washing up on Hawaiian beaches is expected to double by 2030.

Throughout Hawaii we’re seeing volunteers efforts to deal with removal of plastic containers. Hawaii 808 Cleanups, a nonprofit with a large contingent of committed volunteers, is expanding its cleanup, education and outreach efforts throughout Hawaii. 808 Cleanups collected over 500,000 pounds of trash from Hawaii’s beaches in 2019.

Law-makers in Hawaii are trying to respond to the state’s complex and very challenging plastics problem. In 2020 Oahu will have the strictest single-use plastics ban. Plastic bans went into effect in Maui and Hawaii counties last year, but only to prohibit polystyrene foam containers. The Honolulu ban of plastics is even stricter. It includes utensils and other plastic serviceware.

Maui County deserves credit for becoming the first jurisdiction in Hawaii to ban polystyrene foam containers, including plates, clamshells, bowls and cups. Violating the ordinance can cost food vendors up to $1,000 a day. Hawaii County deserves some cheers as well. It passed an ordinance last year that prohibits restaurants and other food servers from using polystyrene foam plates, bowls, cups and other containers. Straws, cup lids, utensils and film wraps are not included, but at least the County encourages the use of environmentally preferable alternatives.


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