HANALEI — Asha Shea-Triggs has a wooden bowl and spoon that she loves to use for acai treats.
Her mother, Lana Shea, is constantly on the lookout for packaging that is biodegradable.
The Hanalei woman and her 10-year-old daughter generally take steps to minimize the amount of waste going into Kauai’s landfill, but kicked their efforts up a notch after watching friends complete a month-long, plastic-free dining challenge.
“The wooden bowl is Asha’s favorite,” Shea said, pulling the small, coconut- sized bowl from a cloth bag.
A glass jar for bulk items, two sets of wooden utensils, and a square, glass storage container were also in the bag, which is what Rebecca Hart and her daughter Kailani carried around with them during the challenge.
“We started in June, went for one month and traveled to six states,” Hart said.
Hart, a disc jockey and yoga instructor, also helps with marketing and planning events. She said when she and her 10-year-old daughter travel, they notice a lot of waste.
“We work for these environmentally friendly companies and we’re at events and we’re being inundated with single-use plastic,” Hart said. “It dawned on me to try the plastic-free challenge.”
The challenge has rippled through social media as a way of encouraging people to ditch drinking straws, take-out containers and petroleum-based food packaging for a month.
The purpose is to draw awareness to the impact single-use plastic has on the environment, and to generate solutions to those issues.
Plastic production began ramping up in the 1950s. Worldwide, about 8 billion metric tons of it have been produced since then, according to a July study from the University of Georgia published in the journal Science Advances. The worst part: Plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade.
According to the study, of the 8.3 billion metric tons produced, only 12 percent has been incinerated. The rest is stacking up in landfills and along roadsides, as well as in the Pacific Gyre — and Kauai’s beaches.
On the Garden Island, about 9,595 tons of plastic ended up in the Kekaha Landfill in fiscal year 2016, 11.5 percent of the total estimated 83,740 tons of waste. An estimated 41 tons of that plastic was grocery and other merchandise bags, 364 tons were made up of expanded polystyrene food service ware, and 122 tons were HI-5 HDPE containers.
Annually, the Kekaha Landfill accepts about 85,000 tons of waste. Residents generate half of it, and half is generated by businesses, according to Allison Fraley, county Department of Public Works solid waste program coordinator.
Though plastic doesn’t even make up half of that waste, it’s adding to the pile, according to Ben Sullivan, energy and sustainability coordinator for County of Kauai. And Kauai’s waste is just a piece of a worldwide problem.
“A significant amount (of the Kekaha Landfill waste) is plastics that we have come to rely on for basic needs, but we can’t keep filing our landfills and polluting our oceans,” Sullivan said.
He continued: “As an island-state, Hawaii sees these impacts earlier and more severely than anywhere else in the world.”
The average resident on Kauai produces around 1,300 pounds of waste per year, and county officials said that points to the potential impact of every individual’s choices.
Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said he applauds the efforts of people like the Hart and Shea families to reduce waste in general, especially plastics.
“We all know that plastics are having an increasingly detrimental effect on our oceans and environment,” Carvalho said. “By going plastic-free, these Kauai residents are showing all of us how to change our own waste habits.”
It’s challenging to eliminate plastic and other wastes in a “consumer society,” Fraley pointed out, but it can make a difference.
Both Hart and Shea said their efforts to reduce plastic use have definitely been challenging.
“You have to get comfortable saying ‘no’ and you have to plan ahead,” Hart said. “When we did this challenge, our trash and recycling went down to a tenth of what we had before.”
Her advice is to follow the mantra “refuse and reuse.”
Shea’s advice is to do the best you can and make steps as often as possible to reduce waste. Both families said they experience challenges when buying things like snacks and shampoo.
“It might not happen overnight,” Carvalho said, “but with the right leadership and positive attitude, we can make real progress reducing the waste generated in our community.”