As the Honolulu government is busy working out the recent glitches in plans to ship O’ahu’s excess waste to the mainland, we as individuals should reflect on our consumer habits. More importantly than to trying to solve the symptom of the problem of excess waste, we should be thinking about ways to reduce waste generation at the source – in our homes and at work.
As inhabitants of this beautiful island state, we are individually responsible for the waste we create, and of taking advantage of whatever opportunities are available to reduce waste. Many may be unaware of the amount of waste that can be diverted from landfills from either reducing, reusing, or recycling. Or, more likely, many are simply overwhelmed with the confusion of what can and can’t be recycled, and simply don’t have the time, mental energy or knowledge to even know how to maximize our waste reduction capabilities.
Here’s an idea: find one thing to do to reduce waste (such as refusing plastic bags if not needed or by patronizing businesses that use reuseable/recyclable/compostable products. Aim for that one thing to be a habit by the end of the month. Then, next month, pick something else and work at that. By the end of the year, you’ll have educated yourself (and hopefully your family and friends) with at least twelve ways you can easily reduce your waste generation.
Recycling can sometimes be a devil in disguise. Although recycling is a good effort to keep waste from going into our landfills, the emissions created from the process of shipping and remanufacturing recyclables may outweigh the benefits here in Hawai’i. Opala even claims ‘low-grade papers and plastics are combustible and provide greater benefit to the island in local energy production than shipping to distant markets to be made into new products’.
H-Power’s ability to ‘reuse’ our excess trash by burning it and turning it into electricity is also not an optimal course of action. Plans to increase H-Power’s capacity to burn waste will increase the current amount of waste processed per day from 2,160 tons to 3,060 tons, out of a total of about 3,600 tons created daily. This leaves 540 tons of trash everyday that will enter our landfills or be shipped away. Although electricity generation in this manner may prevent a commendable portion of fossil fuels emissions from entering the atmosphere, the expansion will only provide 6 percent of O’ahu’s current demand for energy and entails some serious environmental impacts of combusting waste that include emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and toxic chemicals into the air.
The best things we can do start right at home. We can make a conscious effort to think about everything we throw away and ask ourselves if there is any way we can reuse it or, better yet, not acquire it in the first place. The next best thing we can do is contact our local representatives and senators to demand infrastructure improvements and informational awareness to promote the first two ‘R’s’ of reducing and reusing rather than focusing too much on the third ‘R’ and relying on burning waste as our best options to reduce the amount of waste polluting our beautiful ‘aina.