The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

August 18, 2009

Visiting a Plastic Paradise

I’m here in Waikiki with my family. The purpose of the trip: helping my parents. The reality of the first few days: recreation. Much needed. Walking on the beach. Climbing Diamond Head. Playing games and eating ice cream. But one thing I notice everywhere I turn: plastic. Plastic bottles and plastic trash lying on the ground. But also tiny plastic pieces that have washed up on the beach. Here are a few photos. Beautiful vistas that become heartbreaking on closer inspection. (Click on any photo to see larger.)

Diamond Head — from a distance…

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Up close…

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From a distance…

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Up close…

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From a distance…

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Up close…

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Bellows Beach Park — from a distance…

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Up close, the sand is infused with tiny pieces of plastic that wash up all down the beach.

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Last night, we had dinner at the food court in the International Market Place. All the vendors serve food on Styrofoam plates. I circled the food court several times before spying a stack of uncoated cardboard plates at the Korean food vendor’s booth. Asking to have my salad on one of those plates, I was told that kind is more expensive and only used for the short ribs. So I offered to pay extra for it. After explaining to the cashier that I don’t like to use Styrofoam, she sighed and told me I wasn’t the first person to say that. Great. The more the better.

How many of us are willing to speak up and explain to shop clerks why we don’t need a plastic bag or container or bottle? How many of us are willing to add our voices to the chorus of people advocating change? It only takes a second. Speaking up sometimes feels difficult or embarrassing, but isn’t the alternative worse?

As for all the plastic waste polluting our wild places, what’s the solution? It’s hard to pinpoint the source of the plastic pollution on the beach. Those particles have been out in the ocean for a long time. But the plastic bags, wrappers, and bottles littering Diamond Head? Those didn’t wash up from somewhere else. They were deposited by tired tourists unwilling to carry out their own trash.

It seems to me as an outsider that an anti-littering campaign is in order, including more conveniently located containers. There is a big one at the Diamond Head trailhead.

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But maybe recycling containers along the way, or better yet encouraging visitors to bring their own reusable bottles would help. How about an official Diamond Head stainless steel souvenir bottle? My sister and I brought ours!

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Any Hawaiian readers want to add your thoughts?

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McKennon Farell
8 years ago

This is atrocious! Such beautiful landscape and view but when you see it up close, there is so much rubbish being loitered. Rubbish collection companies could only do so much but not train people on how to properly dispose of such. I think the government should make intensified campaigns in schools and in the public of the harmful effects of too much rubbish and waste in the environment.

Steph @ Greening Families
14 years ago

Yuck – the up close photos make me nauseous. My kids love to pick up trash (which somehow does not translate into picking up their toys) and we are always shocked by how much of what we pick up is plastic.

Thanks so much for continuing to draw attention to this issue.

Crunchy Domestic Goddess
14 years ago

wow, what a beautiful place being marred by all of the trash. :( it's especially sad about all of the plastic washing up on shore. despite all of this, hope u had a good trip.

14 years ago

So true – we took a trip to Puerto Rico earlier in the year and we chartered a boat to sail out to an Island which is uninhabited and a park reserve – anyways, there was plastic litter all in the brush that was just off of the beach.
Also, litter all through the beach, bottle caps, straws, ect..
It is very saddening, I agree.

14 years ago

More on plastics in the ocean:

14 years ago

Great post, Beth. Even on my 'vaca' to NJ, I remembered to bring my reusable bags and metal water bottle. I have asked people in the airport food court to fill up the bottle and had no problems. I think we just, idvidually, need to make it a habit to be prepared. It will vatch on. All the cool kids are doing it ;-)

14 years ago

I completely agree that people in Hawaii are addicted to plastic. I just moved to Oahu in January and since then I have spent much of my time attempting to educate my roommates and grocery store clerks about the problem with plastic bags. Especially in a place like Hawaii, where environmental stewardship should be a top priority, the harsh reality is that most residents either do not care or do not know about the issues impacting their island home. We all need to do our part to make sure this place stays as beautiful and clean as possible. Limiting plastics from our "diet" seems a good way to start.

14 years ago

I found the same thing in the Bahamas. I was shocked that the thing that attracts people there (the beaches & water) and sustains their small economy (tourism) was treated with such little regard. Once you got past the small part of the beach that the resort 'maintained' there was all kinds of trash everywhere! It made me really sad and aware of everything that was disposed of on that trip.

Lisa Sharp
14 years ago

Wow Beth how sad!!

I speak up, I don't eat out much because I'm deathly allergic to mushrooms so I can't eat anywhere that serves them until I trust the staff. This means in my hometown I only have one place I eat out and it's a small family owned Italian restaurant. I know the staff very well (they are all on my facebook lol) and they know my allergy and they are learning my eco rules lol.

We always sit in the bar and I ask for no straw in my drink and bring glass straws. It's funny because they all know them now and if they forget and put a straw in my glass they quickly take it out and say "oh crap I forgot." :) I don't worry to much about those times they are trying and that's what matters. :) I love those kinds of places for that reason.

I think that the times when we can ask for no ____ or whatever is a good chance to educate people that don't know a different.

Even in the local recycling coalition most bring their lunches with lots of waste and I bring mine waste-free. They have started asking questions and more are bring reusable containers now. :)

Green In OC
14 years ago

Don't ever be embarrassed to ask, I agree the more of us that ask might change what they order next time.

I have also come to realize that small restauranteurs don't seem to know that options are available. I always refer them to

Just in case you aren't convinced that you should never be embarrassed to ask, here's a reminder as to why you should ALWAYS ask and NEVER assume!

Kim from Milwaukee
14 years ago

I'm so with you, Beth. Americans are known by the rest of the world as litterbugs. I wish we could change that rep and become the people who are responsible for picking up after ourselves and leaving a place cleaner than it was before we got there.

It's all about convenience, it seems. I had every intention to go to the Renaissance Faire this year and bring my own cup, plate and napkin. But I didn't. I did, however, email the Faire to ask them if I could help bring about a 'trash-free' Faire for future events. I'm sure they think I'm crazy, but someone's gotta be, right?

You're my hero.

14 years ago

Right On!

14 years ago

I never noticed the plastic during my walk on Skyline Drive in Virginia (and even remarked on it to myself) but we also met up with volunteers that clean up after the hikers and they had a big old huge bag of garbage. So I guess they are throwing their crap out on the trail where we were.

We brought our reusable bottles as well as the other family. The only bad thing was that we did inadvertently leave behind garbage. The wrapper on my stepson's reusable bottle fell off and nobody noticed. It is out there somewhere *sigh*

I need to speak up more. I am very non-confrontational in all areas of my life so this is just par for the course as opposed to something different just for plastic.

14 years ago

Beth – thanks for bringing awareness to the plastic problem. It is all over our planet; even the most unexpected places. I just returned from a trip to Haiti. The Haitians have nothing, literally nothing, and yet you find plastic everywhere. It made me ill to see plastic in the streets and piled onto vacant lots. The few goods that make it there are packaged in plastic and they have nowhere to put it.

It takes people like you and your readers to bring awareness to the rest of the world. Keep up the good work!

Cheap Like Me
14 years ago

How sad. We try to be low-impact tourists, but clearly, most people do not. If only plastic bottles were reserved for solely must-need situations — not to mention the gunk in the water.

John Costigane
14 years ago

Hi Beth,

The situation is the same the world over. Speaking out is important and taking action like joining anti-litter efforts is worthwhile. Plastic packaging and litter generally are part of our throwaway societies.

I find small retailers quite receptive to Zero Waste, since part of this trend is a move away from supermarkets, back to local town centre traders.

knutty knitter
14 years ago

Being a tourist stop does tend to attract rubbish. However the locals (us and neighbours) are vigilant. Both my neighbour and hubby went out and told the last group of teenagers to pick up the apples they rolled down the hill (it is Baldwin st) on their way down and then stood and waited until they did. They were polite but unyielding. I think those teens will think twice next time.

However, there is still a lolly wrapper in my garden and a chippie packet and a dead apple. People don't seem to realize that we do actually live here and that we prefer our gardens junk free.

viv in nz

14 years ago

I was in Waikiki 12 years ago, when I was much less aware. Of course I didn't really notice the plastic waste. I bet it would be different now. Your photos definitely bring the situation home.

I think that many people view a vacation as a free pass to not worry. About their waste, their impact, their anything. The photos you've shown us are evidence of the results. So many people thinking 'Oh, it's just one bottle, and I'm on vacation' really does add up.

14 years ago

I remember seeing the plastic tides on the beaches in Hong Kong, back in the early 1980s when I lived there. Seeing your photos brought it all back to me.

Is this going to be humanity's legacy to the earth – billions of tiny pieces of plastic, in circulation for ever?

I hope not.

More and more, I start to think I need to join you on your plastic free pledge. But I don't know if it is even possible, with two preschoolers – and one of them on a special needs diet (gluten free, dairy free vegetarian).

But then, if I don't change, who will?


Daharja (Cluttercut)

14 years ago

Yes, by all means speak up because that is how things change. Today at a physical therapy place where I was waiting for my Bunny, I asked if it was possible to escape the (not so) background music. No, was the reply. So then I asked if I could take a waiting room chair into the hallway and was told I could.

Now, of course the first reaction would be "this guy is nuts" but that wallpaper music will now be heard in just a slightly different way – or it might be heard for the first time but someone who never noticed it.

How weird was someone asking others not to smoke back in the day when Humphrey Bogart was sooooo cool on the screen with a smoke in his hand? Things do change. Be a weirdo to make the change you'd like to see happen sooner.

Dawn @girlfriendceleb
14 years ago

Great post, Beth! I have found the same thing on the shores of Lake Michigan…plastic washing up everywhere on these clean beaches. What I would have looked at before as "just litter" I now realize is almost entirely plastic pieces. Bottles, bags, wrappers and shards of beach toys. The kids and I plan to do a litter pickup of our stretch of beach before we leave. I think the beach towns could do a better job of posting signs about taking your trash with you, as well as providing recycling containers for plastic.

14 years ago

Thanks for sharing such a beautiful place, along with your concerns. I hope that people take your advice and speak up; that helps create change! We can all do our part.

Good luck with helping your parents and enjoy your stay!