Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

I woke up this morning to drenching rain. It stopped in time for me to go for a walk around the neighborhood. I didn't have a planned route in mind, but rambled with purpose instead. As I was on my last leg back towards the house, the skies off to mauka (inland) were dark with menacing rain clouds...but in the true Hilo tradition, the makai (towards the ocean) side was clear with the sun shining brightly. There was a beautiful, full-arcing rainbow sitting right over my house.

Since I knew we were going to be in dockside for Earth Day, I've been working on some projects to improve KISKA's environmental impact. XO recommended we get reusable grocery bags. FS2 goes to the grocery store every two to three days, and when he packs in for a patrol, we usually have about 200 thousand-million plastic bags floating around the mess deck...ok, that's an exaggeration, but, I swear, those damn things breed and get everywhere! So before we're out of dockside, we'll have 50 brand-new, KISKA-logo'd cloth grocery bags that can be thrown in the wash and reused again and again. I had the thought of putting them on property as "highly-pilferable," but then realized that it was probably just me that would want to pilfer.

The next idea was to tackle energy usage at home. The Coast Guard owns five houses for crewmembers in Hilo, and since energy costs are about 30% more on the Big Island than Oahu, there's usually a good amount of visibility on the electric bills at these properties. One way we've been working with the members to reduce monthly kilowatt usage is to have them take HELCO's energy-usage survey. They can log into the survey, answer some questions, and then the system takes information from their utility bill to recommend changes they can make to improve efficiency.

I took the survey for my own use a couple of weeks ago. Now, I don't have air-conditioning (and everything in the house has a fine sheen of mold on it, especially stuff in the closets...kinda gross, I know, but that's the price for living in Paradise) and it's just me in the house, so my energy use is already pretty low. But the survey recommended that I change all my lightbulbs to CFLs and upgrade my refrigerator to a more efficient model. Well, I'm willing to do one of those...but the fridge is gonna be the fridge until I leave.

I'm expecting to see something of the same results for the folks in housing. Some things they can do, and some things that are more the Housing Office's responsibility. Once we get some good data, we'll forward up those recommendations...all we can do is ask.

Next on the list was the hazmat shed. It's been in poor shape for a while now, and since I'll be leaving this summer, I didn't want to just pass the problem on to my relief. I took some pictures, labeled the most egregious discrepancies and asked for help. And we got the money to replace it. Thanks, CEU Honolulu! (There is a little more to this story; I don't think CEU is in the business of just giving away money whenever someone asks, lest anyone get the wrong idea.)

And my last green initiative was to breathe new life into our recycling program. We have a program, sort of. I give it about 60% effectiveness. We do a decent job with bottles and cans (Hawaii has a redemption program, $.05/bottle or can), a reasonable job with paper, a poor job with non HI-5 glass/aluminum/plastic, and a pathetic job with cardboard.

The first step was awareness: announcements at quarters and gentle reminders when someone heads to the trash can with something that can be recycled. These are good guys, and I do truly believe they want to do the right thing.

The next step is practical logistics. And for some reason, this is where it gets sticky. My working theory is that people are more likely to recycle if it's easy. As good as these guys are, we're all basically lazy. If there's a trash can right next to the desk, that's where the paper/bottles/cans are going to go. I'm leaning towards putting a recycle bin underneath each desk in the office. My department heads are of the mind that people can be persuaded, possibly forcibly persuaded, into compliance. They want one or two centralized stations. I think it's a difference in basic theories and opinions about human behavior and motivations. I'm focusing on the ends, they're focusing on the means; both are important, especially in the larger scheme of things.

There is at least one other factor to consider. The people that do our contracted office cleaning may not understand our system, whatever it is. I don't want us to get stuff in the right container, just to have the cleaning crew pile it all into the rubbish bin.

I still haven't come up with a good option for how to compile and store recycle-able cardboard.

Have a Happy Earth Day, all!


Liomoana said...

Hey, I want a Kiska recyclable bag two! (Yes, two, three...I'll even pay for them!)

You are right, people will recycle if it's easy and convenient. I remember numerous conversations with my boss about how recycling needs to be convenient. I get annoyed with the folks at the thrift store who throw corrugated cardboard in the dumpster. I've asked them numerous times not to and told them I take it to one of the local elementary schools that has a container for it. We supposedly have a green curbside container for cardboard, but other people (I don't think it's thrift store folks) use it for trash. UGH!!

Good luck with your recycling program. I hope the guys will continue after you leave and make it even better as they pass it along to those who replace them.

Azulao said...

Large signs everywhere: RECYCLE THAT, YOU EVIL SLACKER!!!

Ha ha, just kidding obviously. Maybe a sign would help, though, over the trash can -- "Not for recyclable material" -- and definitely have a talk with the cleaning crew.

Then again, faculty, who are supposed to be the smartest and most crunchy liberal people on the planet, do not recycle their drink cans when the trash can is by the door and the recycle bin is, like, two feet away from the door, so what do I know?

My word veri is PaBOTCH! I love that word!

Just a Girl said...

See, you guys are just helping to prove my point. It's gotta be easy for people to actually recycle.

I realized from your email, Liomoana, that I fell into CG-speak without even realizing. When I mentioned "putting the grocery bags on property"...that means that it goes on a list of high-value items that we have to inventory every year, or for a few various other reasons. And you're right, they should get stamped with a label indicating they are on property.

The only way we could make the bags for sale is to buy them with Morale funds, and then resell them, so I hate to tell you, I won't be able to get any bags for you. Sorry.

sis-in-law said...

There's not a good way to recycle here in Nairobi. I hear there's a recycling depot out in the rich suburb now. But recycling is still easy: give it to the househelp. Or just throw it in the trash. The garbage men in the back of the truck go through everything; and, alas, there are always the children living in the garbage dump, like any other third-world city.
Cloth grocery bags confuse the baggers here; they carefully put the plastic bags of groceries in the cloth bags for me. Why wouldn't I want the plastic bags?
When we lived upcountry, out of Nairobi, the local women "recycled" most any container, box, clothing. Cans became their "tupperware", boxes (even empty juice boxes) shingled their roofs, and clothing...I often saw my old pajamas on kids at church.

Liomoana said...

I'm cool cloth grocery bags. ;-(

Azulao said...

*Grocery* bags are high value items that have to be freaking inventoried every couple of years???

Remind me again why our defense budget is so large?

Oh hey, here's a thought -- if your department heads simply cannot stomach having actual recycle bins everywhere (which is not "green" because after all they do have to be manufactured), then cardboard boxes colored blue will do. Also, have a little competition and give a prize to the section that recycles the most crap. We did that in the dorms on my campus and the snowflakes cut their energy use by **75%** just by turning off the lights and flicking the power strips when they left the damn room for more than five hours.

Just a Girl said...

A, I was making a bad joke about putting the grocery bags on our property list. I'm not really going to do it.

Ooh, recycled cardboard recycle uber-green :)