I had a lovely vacation and a great birthday on the island of Maui, but besides the tsunami evacuation (which occurred as I was just falling asleep) I was also irked by something else: the recycling situation.
Upon my arrival to Maui I was greeted by “BYO Bag!” banners hanging proudly outside of grocery stores, from small local shops to Safeway, announcing their participation in the campaign to ban bags in Maui County (similar to our Ban the Bag campaign here in Portland). I saw recycled paper bags that stated “I [recycle symbol] HI” on it. There was a slew of wind turbines near Lahaina. I figured I had arrived in a sustainable place, as such a beautiful island should be, until the end of the trip, when it came time to part with the myriad recycling items that had accumulated in our rental car. Our tourism resulted in glass bottles and the cardboard box/sleeves them came in, plastic, aluminum cans (Maui Brewing Co’s Mana Wheat is a must-try if you are ever there), brochures, paper maps, and magazines.
Now I know “reduce” comes first in the three Rs so I tried to take only what I need, but being a tourist means maps and brochures are inevitable, and as it was my birthday reducing the amount of pineapple beer and wine didn’t seem like an attractive option. On my way out I returned the pristine brochures at a kiosk, even taking a few minutes to make sure they all got back in their correct spots. Next was recycling, which turned out to be nonexistent in some cases. I searched high and low for a bin to put the rest of our recycling, however the only options available offered space for cans and bottles specifically marked with “HI 10 cents.” A lot more stuff than I would have liked ended up getting dumped, leaving me overly-conscious of the fact some of my discarded items will be sitting in a landfill near Hana on a gorgeous island for decades to come. These items will surely be joined by jillions of other things discarded by tourists who weren’t sure what other option they had besides to jettison the contents of their rental car into the dumpster.
It looks like the green movement is indeed making it’s way to the islands, but as of right now Maui is lacking the facilities to recycle many common items. Unfortunately, this means shipping materials to the mainland, a costly endeavor that utilizes perhaps more energy than would be saved in the end. Regarding energy, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of sunshine Maui gets, as confirmed by my tan (and peeling skin) compared to the appalling lack of solar panels on the island– I think I saw two total. I’m not a solar expert, and I know the panels would be expensive and CO2 intensive to get to Maui, but surely the ROI wouldn’t be too long, and these panels could potentially power a recycling plant. All of their sun (or wave energy) could definitely be put to good use in an area that has some of the highest electric bills in the country.
One article I read mentioned a landfill that was supposed to last ten years filled up in in two. I immediately remembered an article I read a long time ago about Nantucket producing zero waste, simply because they are on an island and that’s what they needed to do to preserve their home. Hopefully Maui can jump on board with zero waste, and implement a plan that works for residents and is also easy for tourists.