The World Progress Now team took a family trip to the beautiful island of Kauai over the holidays. Kauai is the fourth largest island of the Hawaiian Archipelago. The island’s beauty cannot be described with words; Waimea Canyon State Park is breath taking and the lush green scenery is enough to make time disappear completely. People travel from all over the world to the Garden Island for relaxation, sun, beach, and culture.
There are just over 67,000 people who permanently live on the island of Kauai according to the 2010 census. There are over one million tourists that come to Kauai every year. Tourism helps drive the island’s economy.
Our trip was intended to be a respite from normalcy, however when the World Progress Now team has a chance to be tourists, analysis of the process is sure to follow. Right away we noticed the overuse of plastic water bottles by tourists. These one-time use water bottles were everywhere. They were in the airport, the hotels, the stores, and most obviously in the hands of most of the tourists. This is a common phenomena when traveling and I understand that people need to hydrate, however we were on an island claimed as the wettest spot on Earth; Mount Wai’ale’ale averaging over three hundred and seventy inches of rain a year! The point here is that there’s water on the island and it’s fresh.
Tourists tend not to trust foreign water sources and would rather purchase a brand of water they are familiar with for consistency and taste they can rely upon. Similar to the fast-food phenomena, it’s the idea that if I order a burger at McDonald’s in California it will taste the same as a burger that I order in New York. The condo we stayed at during our vacation had wonderful, filtered, clean water right out of the tap. So why weren’t people drinking it? It lacked the marketing and promotional appeal of bottled water perhaps. Plastic water bottles have become the new normal. Supermarkets sell them by the case or more, and vending machines sell them individually. I realize that this is an education and awareness issue. People need to be hydrated, especially on a hot beach. The one-time use plastic water bottle is more expensive, may have adverse health effects associated, and is increasingly damaging to the environment.
Interestingly while we were there, the local newspaper TGI (The Garden Island) printed a lead article: “High Cost of Trash” by Brittany Lyte. According to the article, the island’s landfill is reaching capacity and will be unusable in the next ten years. The local government and waste management are working on locating a new site. The article did a great job of relating the correlation between upticks in the economy and an uptick in waste. This can be blamed in a large part on tourism. More tourists equal more waste. Period. The article goes on to talk about diversion programs and recycling. The goal is to divert more waste to recycling or reuse. The article discusses what happens to certain products and stated that clear plastic is shipped to China.
This highlights another issue entirely.
The issue of recycling is an interesting one. We are made to believe in America when we recycle things are reused for new products. The fact of the matter is that there are no national standards for recycling and according to Wikipedia in 2012 the recycling rate was only 34.5%. Some states have no recycling programs or laws in place. Those states that do support a recycling program many times will ship the products off to China. The Chinese then pay low wages to individuals willing to sift through our trash, some stuff is recycled into new items, and the rest is burned, thus adding to the world’s pollution problem. When we recycle plastic, it may end up as a pollutant turning the skies of Beijing into a post-apocalyptic cityscape. Our response cannot be to blame China. It is most likely our consumer trash. Hypothetically, that plastic water bottle tossed away in Kauai, then shipped to China and burned so that we don’t have to deal with it. The plastic trash that doesn’t get shipped or recycled is buried in the landfill or worse, washes out to sea. Sadly, the plastic particles formed by the breakdown of bags and water bottles were visible as I strolled some of the beaches in Kauai.
The issue we need to resolve is the production of waste in general. How can we avoid plastic waste and use compostable products only? We need an infrastructure that provides necessary drinking water and we all need to educate ourselves a bit on the real story of the waste stream.
We left Kauai and headed to Honolulu International Airport in order to catch our flight home and we were encouraged to find a hydration station in the airport.
The responsible tourism infrastructure has begun and needs to continue to grow to every hotel, shopping mall, park, school, event and tourist destinations.
Kauai is a beautiful island with a waste problem. We, as tourists, can assist in reducing this burden on the locals and the overall health of the planet. World Progress Now encourages every tourist to #gowithoutplastic and help build the responsible tourism infrastructure.