Friday, April 16, 2010

My Letter to the "Honolulu Weekly"

I sent an email letter to the editor of the Honolulu Weekly over a week ago, with the topic being the encouragement of plastic recycling - specifically, types 1 and 2 plastic - by businesses donating their empty plastic containers, primarily the bottles that their maintenance crews had leftover after the daily cleanings of their office buildings. Office buildings and shopping centers have to be cleaned everyday and I assume that most of the cleaning products come in plastic bottles, probably type 2 plastic.

When the most recent issue of the Weekly came out, it had a cover story related to recycling, as well as reuse and reduction of consumption. I was quite surprised that they didn't print my letter, which was fully in-line with their cover story. I am hopeful that they may print it in the next issue, but they didn't even mention that people could drop-off recyclables at public schools, which helps the schools raise funds for school activities.

In the event that the Honolulu Weekly decides not to publish my letter in the future, I reprint it below. After I sent the letter to them, I also forwarded it to several people in the Hawaii Department of Education and have been discussing the possibility of beginning such an effort to benefit public schools close to the area of Downtown Honolulu.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on my letter.


Dear Editor,

Many of our public schools participate in fundraising by collecting recyclables, with the money raised going to support school activities.

While most of the recyclables are commonly collected things, such as HI-5 bottles, newspapers, and corrugated cardboard, two types of plastics are also collected at schools that you seldom hear about but are very common in households and businesses: type 1 and type 2 plastics.

What makes these plastics so interesting is how widely they are used. You'll find these plastics used to make containers that hold peanut butter, motor oil, milk, juices, cooking oil, kimchee, liquid laundry detergent and probably most of the jarred or bottled items in your grocery store. Yet, they are seldom collected for recycling. I'd assume that, second to the HI-5 bottles, types 1 and 2 plastic items are the most commonly found plastics in our landfills. Yet, our public schools could benefit if more people donated their empty plastic containers in these recycling drives.

For example, every shopping mall in Hawaii has to be cleaned every day and I assume that most of the cleaning products are contained in type 2 plastic bottles and this includes plastic spray bottles. How many empty plastic containers are simply thrown out with the trash every week or even every day, just from shopping mall cleanings?

If you add the plastics thrown out every week after cleanings at Big Box stores, grocery stores, office buildings and restaurants, you're talking about a lot of plastic containers. Never mind the ones discarded from homes and small businesses.

In order to reduce the amount of these commonly-used plastics ending-up in our landfills, while at the same time providing some financial help to our public schools, I'd like to ask the management and owners of Hawaii's shopping malls to consider donating the empty plastic containers to the public school nearest to their business location. Simply contact that school's administration and let them know that you'd like to make regular weekly donations of plastic recyclables to their fundraising drives. If the owners of other businesses want to join-in and help schools collect type 1 and 2 plastics for recycling, so much the better.

With the financial hits our public schools have taken recently, I'm certain that they would appreciate all the help they can get and it would keep more plastic out of our landfills.

*******END OF MESSAGE*******

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Helping Hawaii's Public Schools

I just got back from dropping-off recyclables at McKinley High School and I had what I think is a great idea:

Our public school system is having financial difficulties right now, which has resulted in teacher furloughs and a reduced school year for students. As part of their fundraising efforts to support school activities, some of our public schools participate in recycling drives, where they collect things like: corrugated cardboard, paper, cans, bottles, glass and plastics of types #1 and #2.

While many businesses recycle cardboard, paper, and HI-5 bottles and cans, few places recycle type 1 or 2 plastic, but schools do and this is where my idea got started.

Plastic products of either type 1 or 2 are very common in households and business across Hawaii, from what I have seen so far. They are often made into containers for everything from milk, juice, peanut butter, laundry detergent, motor oil, cooking oil, yogurt and many others. Chances are pretty good that most of these containers end-up in the trash and then to landfills. In any area like that where McKinley High School is situated, they are sitting in an area where various homes and businesses are literally tons of type 1 and 2 plastic are being thrown away every year, when those things could be recycled and money could go to support activities at McKinley and its associated intermediate and elementary schools. They are figuratively swimming in an ocean of recyclable plastic (an ugly vision, but bear with me) from the homes and businesses just in their area, but those recyclables are being thrown away, rather than recycled.

For example, Ala Moana Shopping Center is within eyesight of the school and that shopping center is cleaned every day. Odds are very good that most of the cleaning products are contained in plastics that can be recycled, including the spray bottles. If Ala Moana Shopping Center sent just one-fourth of the recyclable plastic bottles that they otherwise would throw away to McKinley's recycling bin, how much money would McKinley get out of that to support their school activities? No one knows, but it's likely more than they're making now. Add to that Don Quijote, Walmart and Sam's Club and you're talking about way more money going to the school and less plastic going to landfills or to the HPOWER plant. The number grown even higher if other nearby businesses participate and the numbers get even better if the residents participate in greater numbers than they do now.

A plan like this would work well for a school like McKinley, which is situated close to a major retail shopping mall and numerous other businesses, plus a large residential population. Something like this might not be as productive for my alma mater, Farrington High School, which is mostly surrounded by residential properties, though there is a nearby shopping mall and KMart is close-by.

Still, when you consider how many type 1 and 2 plastic bottles and jars the average household throws away in a given year or the number of bottles cleaning companies go through just in a week, when all those bottles could be recycled and the public schools could financially benefit, it makes me wonder why no one has thought of this until now or, if they had, why such an idea was never implemented.

Sure, it may be inconvenient for some of us. Participating businesses and households would have to save the bottles they would normally throw in the garbage and benefiting schools may find themselves inundated with mountains of plastic bottles (along with the smell of those not cleaned-out before being dropped-off) and it may require more frequent pickups from the recycling companies.But, eventually an equilibrium would be reached if everyone perseveres and the schools would hopefully see a substantial increase in their financial incomes to benefit student activities. If things go well-enough, the monies could be diverted to directly benefit the schools themselves and much-needed repairs could finally be paid for.

I'll grant that this whole thing might be a dumb idea that could never work outside of my head. Still, doing nothing accomplishes nothing and occasionally you have to think outside the box to find new solutions to current problems. I really don't see the harm of, at least, giving this a try. If it fails, okay. But, if it works the public school system benefits.

Whether you have children in the public school system or not, whether you have children or not, Society as a whole benefits when our public school system receives the funds they need to get the job done.

Duane Browning
Farrington High School, class of 1983.