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Exploring Hawaii’s Plastic Crisis: A Three-Day, Three-Island, Three-Beach Journey

Jun 11, 2024 - Blog by

Aloha! Last month, I set off on an unforgettable journey across three stunning Hawai’ian Islands to see firsthand how plastic trash is wreaking havoc on Hawaii, the tropical paradise. My mission—team up with nonprofit groups dedicated to protecting the islands’ precious coastlines.

Why Hawai’i? This beautiful island state sits in the heart of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where ocean currents relentlessly deposit tons of trash on the beaches, most of it plastic, including billions of microplastics. Shockingly, the United States produces the most plastic waste worldwide.

Plastic trash is wreaking havoc on Hawaii

Driven by a desire to make a real difference and get involved, boots (actually flip flops) on-the-ground style, I headed to Hawai’i. Over three days, I joined forces with passionate nonprofits and volunteers, working tirelessly to clean beaches, raise awareness, and celebrate the profound connection Hawai’ians have with their land and sea. This bond was beautifully captured in this Hawai’ian blessing song I witnessed.

Day 1: Big Island Cleanup with Hawai’i Wildlife Fund

On April 20, my adventure to see how plastic trash is wreaking havoc on Hawaii, took me to the rugged shores of the Big Island’s Kamilo Point, a trash hotspot where tons of plastic debris endlessly wash ashore. Led by the passionate team at Hawai’i Wildlife Fund (HWF), we volunteers rolled up our sleeves and, in just three hours, managed to collect a staggering 1,400 pounds of plastic waste.

Amid the debris were discarded items from multi-billion dollar giants like Nestlé, Colgate, PepsiCo, and Hershey’s. It was heartbreaking to see a Hershey Syrup bottle that some unfortunate marine animal had mistaken for food. Driven by our unwavering commitment to protect Hawai’i’s once pristine shores, we felt a profound sense of purpose in our mission and an urgency to stop the massive production of plastic causing such devastation.

Day 2: O’ahu Cleanup with Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i

On April 21st, I found myself at the iconic Waikiki Beach on O’ahu, where Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i (SCH) was spearheading an impressive cleanup at nearby Bellows Bay. Alongside about 500 enthusiastic volunteers of all ages, we scoured the beach, filled truckloads with trash, and meticulously sifted through sand to extract millions of microplastic pieces. These tiny, often invisible, fragments pose a serious threat to marine life.

SCH’s mission goes beyond cleanup of the plastic trash is wreaking havoc on Hawaii, the organization blends cleanup efforts with education, inspiring individuals to rethink their consumption habits and advocate against the massive production of plastic pollution. The plastic industry needs to turn off the giant “fire hose” at the source.

Day 3: Kaua’i Cleanup with Surfrider Foundation

My final stop was Kaua’i’s Anahola Beach on April 22, where the Surfrider Foundation led an enthusiastic cleanup effort. Our team traversed ancient lava rocks collecting hundreds of pounds of trash; much of the plastic waste originating from corporate giants like CocaCola, PepsiCo, and Gatorade. Surfrider leaders and volunteers work tirelessly to keep Kaua’i’s coastline pristine despite the plastic trash that returns day after day, year after year.

It was an empowering experience, witnessing communities united in preserving each island’s unique, natural beauty. However, the plastic problem will persist and, in fact, get worse if we continue to accept the status quo.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch of Plastic Trash is Wreaking Havoc on Hawaii

Most of this plastic can be traced back to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), an environmental catastrophe of epic proportions. Spanning over 600,000 square miles—twice the size of Texas—it contains more than three million tons of plastic. Each year, 15-20 tons of trash wash up on Hawai’i’s shores from this floating landfill, threatening marine life and Hawai’i’s natural beauty.

The problem is getting worse as the plastic industry increases production. In 2022 alone, Coca-Cola increased its plastic packaging by over 454 million pounds to produce a total of 7.56 billion pounds and PepsiCo increased by 220 million pounds to produce 5.80 billion pounds. Together, plastic corporations now are creating over 80,000 million pounds (400 million tons) of plastic trash each year.

Plastic trash is wreaking havoc on Hawaii

As we cleaned the beaches, I reflected on the Hawai’ian concept of Āina, meaning “that which feeds” It embodies the deep connection Hawai’ians have with their land, recognizing the earth’s health as essential to their well-being. Hawai’ians feel a profound sense of responsibility to care for the land that sustains them.

However, the plastic industry is disrespecting Āina by degrading the natural beauty of the landscape. More troubling is the fact that plastic corporations are aware of the crisis they’ve created. Yet, they continue to perpetuate the problem and must be held accountable for the harm.

As an environmental attorney dedicated to preserving the environment, protecting people, and honoring Āina, I am committed to this cause. We must act now to protect our planet and hold those responsible for its degradation accountable.

Mama Earth Law

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