Littering: The enemy is us

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (04/15/00)
By Ray Pendleton

In your busy life, have you ever stopped to smell the roses...only to find them surrounded by someone's discarded fast-food containers?

That was my feeling last week during a leisurely paddle through the channels of the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor. The water was unusually clear and fish - from tilapia to barracuda - could be easily seen swimming about. But too often, suspended above them, was a layer of floating urban refuse.

As much of the debris was one sort of plastic or another, it would have been easy to curse that particular man-made material, but the fact I was perched on an outrigger canoe made of the very same stuff made me give it further consideration.

No, I thought, unfortunately it was just another case of the Pogo cartoon character's accurate observation, "We have met the enemy and it is us."

Wherever our species goes, from the deepest sea to outer space, we seem determined to leave a trail of litter to mark our passage.

Now, I suppose a lunar lander or two on the vast expanse of the moon really doesn't bother many folks, but I think a trash-berg-clogged waterway in paradise should make us ponder our ways.

One of our pollution solutions has been to organize periodic cleanup days and, armed with nets and rakes, volunteers combed our shorelines picking up debris.

In fact, one of those cleanup days is coming up next Saturday.

Under the banner of "Keep Hawaii Beautiful Day" - part of a national cleanup campaign - more than 5,400 people throughout our state will be doing their part to de-litter Hawai`i. I hope if this sounds like a way you would like to help solve the problem, you will call the Community Work Day Program organizers at 1-888-592-2522.

Another of our solutions has been for the state's boating division to maintain a passive trash trap beneath the Ala Moana Boulevard bridge. Particularly after a heavy rainfall, this trap collects tons of floating debris from the canal that would otherwise find its way into the harbor and/or out to sea.

It should be noted that the cost for disposing of the trap's contents - paid by recreational boating revenue - is reported to be between $5,000 and $10,000 for each removal. And, sadly, this surprisingly simple but effective devise is very near collapse and is in dire need of repair to keep it operating.

Catching the litter before it is washed or blown into our waterways is a solution that has yet to be tried with any enthusiasm in Honolulu.

In many mainland communities, a comprehensive street sweeping program is utilized to remove curbside litter, as well as other roadway pollutants. Streets are permanently posted "No Parking" during certain hours of a given day of the week, which then allows street sweeping machines full access to accomplish their task, which includes cleaning the gutter.

Considering our waterways are such a major part of what people come to Hawai`i for, it would seem to be imperative for the city/county to study the feasibility of implementing such a program here.

An additional way of catching litter before it effects the environment is, of course, to further educate people on the importance of properly discarding their refuse. But, with Waikiki's huge number of visitors, perhaps providing more sidewalk trash receptacles would be the more effective alternative.

Yes, Pogo, we are our own worse enemy, but we can and should do more to limit our impact on our marine environment.

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