Saturday, February 25, 2012

Trouble In Paradise

Disclaimer: The following information is anecdotal; I was unable to locate adequate numbers of third-party references to substantiate some of the following claims.

Photo: Barges from Hawaii moored at the Port of Longview WA containing shrink-wrapped garbage in metal containers to be disposed of in Oregon land fills.

During our ten-day stay at our resort on the Big Island, the maid service came in twice to tidy our room and change the linens. Our kitchen was fully equipped and included a large blue recycling container. As recycling is embraced in Oregon with almost religious fervor, we dutifully placed our newspapers, cans, bottles and cardboard packaging in the recycling container. So we were quite surprised (and disappointed) on two occasions to later find large clear plastic bags outside the front door of our condo with our recycling mixed in with our general trash.

During our stay we had dinner one night with our friends Lorraine and Neil who were born and raised on the Big Island. Over dinner we related our experience with the recycling-trash at our resort. Our friends explained that, although Hawaii has a recycling “program”, there is no residential curb-side pick up of recycling; instead everyone must physically bring their recycling to a center. In fact we had noticed when we arrived at their home that they had two large barrels filled with aluminum cans in their car port.

Our friends told us that Hawaii had enacted a 5-cent deposit on liquid containers. However many of these still end up in the trash as so many of the tourists to the state come from states where bottle deposits are an unfamiliar concept.

The imperative for Hawaii to begin recycling came to a head roughly four years ago when the landfill on Oahu became full. A proposal was then made to ship Hawaii’s garbage to Oregon for disposal. However Oregonians balked at accepting garbage because: “Hawaiians recycle less than 25 percent of their sold waste. Oregonians, by comparison, recycle more than 50 percent of their waste.” [1]

Apparently the State of Hawaii contracted with a company to manage recycling on all the Hawaiian Islands. However a subsequent drop in the market for recycled plastic and increased fuel and other overhead costs have since rendered the program no longer cost effective. As a result, a three year accumulation of recycling material is allegedly being stored unprocessed in warehouses.

Beginning January 1st of this year, plastic (checkout counter) bags will be banned on the Big Island. [2] These have become a litter problem and the bags blown into the ocean threaten marine wildlife.

Up to now, Hawaii has generally been able to ignore its material waste disposal. But in a state where the cost of living is extremely high, making recycling programs cost-effective will remain a significant challenge in Paradise.

1. Don’t encourage Hawaii to send its trash, Portland Tribune, Oct. 30, 2009

2. Plastic Bags Banned On Hawaii’s Big Island, Beth Buczynski, Jan. 30, 2012,

Monday, February 20, 2012

Death By A Thousand Cuts

Death By A Thousand Cuts can refer to:

- Creeping normalcy, the way a major negative change, which happens slowly in many unnoticed increments, is not perceived as objectionable

- Slow slicing, a form of torture and execution originating from Imperial China
~ Source: Wikipedia

Pictured above are two spent cardboard toilet paper tubes; you will notice that one is a bit smaller than the other. My wife is an avid recycler; she retrieves these tubes from our bathroom trash were I toss them and adds them to our household recycling. She noticed that the latest batch of toilet tissue was now being produced in a smaller width. The same number of plies, the same number of rolls per package, and at the SAME PRICE… everything the same with the exception that the customer now get 12% LESS product for their money.

This is not a new tactic in the never ending assault of commercial interests to tap a much of our dwindling consumer dollars as feasible. For example, cereal boxes on the grocery shelf appear to have the same height and width, but the packaging is not as deep; a nuance not readily visible as one browses the grocery aisle. Plastic containers have been redesigned to increase the size of the bottom “dimple” lowering the volume of products by 2 or 3 ounces though the container appears to remain the familiar size. A 6 ounce can of tuna today contains 5 ounces of product.

However this marketing tactic is not reserved only for consumer products. Our health insurance premiums had been increasing steadily at the rate of 11 to 15% each year over the previous years. So we were pleasantly surprised (initially) to find that our cost of our health insurance, which had been $1,150 per month last year, would remain this same amount again this year. Instead the insurance company has increased the costs of deductibles, co-payments and fees for special surgical procedures. We will now be required to pick up the first $1050 in medical expenses before the insurance company pays a cent of our medical bills. The premium has remained unchanged but the additional cost in the not-so-obvious charges essentially results in a 7.6% increase in our costs for insurance over last year.

The trend is clear, we consumers will be expected to pay more for less at every turn… and a great majority of the population will never even notice. I confess that I certainly would not have noticed how we are being gypped on toilet tissue had not my diligent little recycler lady noticed the change.

More than ever the rule of Caveat emptor applies– the trend toward redistribution of the wealth will continue, but not quite in the manner in which the Republicans like to frame the issue.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Postcards from Paradise

A few snapshots from our vacation on the Big Island, Hawaii. I'll let the photos speak for themselves. Enjoy.