By Kahi Pacarro

Stop thinking that recycling and cleanups will solve our plastic pollution problems.

That’s a stark pronouncement coming from me, considering I started a beach cleanup organization (Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i) eight years ago that has grown to become a world leader in our search for real solutions to the pollution crisis facing our oceans and islands. Let me illuminate that statement with revelations we’ve come across on our adventure towards real solutions.

At first it seems easy: don’t litter, pick up trash, and recycle. It’s what we’ve been told to do since we were kids, but the problem has only gotten worse. That’s because many of the pillars of our educational upbringing were actually built by the corporations that profit when we continue to think that we can clean and recycle our way out of the mess we find ourselves in.

In 1953, a group of savvy businessmen from the beverage and packaging industries came up with a plan to combat a potential incoming swath of regulation and public outcry against their industry. Their plan was to create a non-profit group that put the responsibility of keeping America beautiful on the consumer — not on the companies whose packaging is made out of a material that lasts forever, yet is used for just a few minutes. Their genius was the Keep America Beautiful campaign (KAB), and its local variant, Keep Hawaiian Islands Beautiful (KHIB), now works diligently throughout the state. They want us to think we are a bunch of litterbugs and that all we have to do to fix this problem is to stop littering, recycle, and push for better waste management, including incinerators and waste-to-energy plants like H-Power.

Since the inception of KAB, the deep pockets funding this organization have allowed the group to insert curriculum into our communities that continue to shame us, the consumer, while putting no responsibility on the companies that fund KAB. What this has created is a false sense of understanding towards the solutions to truly “Keeping America Beautiful”. It’s an ironic campaign name considering the message perpetrated on the public and youth in schools only exacerbates an America filled with leftover packaging that clogs our storm drains, landfills, incinerators, forests, rivers, harbors, beaches, and oceans. Campaigns like these are instruments of the oil industry, and they get funding in order to continue to make industry funders billions of dollars annually.

We believe the funding should remain within the companies in order to evolve and redesign the way that they do business instead of justifying their status quo.
Real solutions encourage suspending the creation of single use plastics, and to switch the makeup of other plastic products to be created with viable renewable alternatives such as bamboo, hemp, mycelium, and corn, among others.

Where does Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i stand in all of this? The organization was created after my mind was blown seeing all the plastic scattered across Kailua Beach — though I was blind to the microplastic at that time, I realized the scope of the problem deeply affected my life. Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i was born that day, and the goal was twofold. The first was to educate others about the severity of the issue at hand, understanding that the crap washing ashore was generated by the same stuff we (along with our family, our friends, our coworkers, and our clients) use on a daily basis or as a result of the food we eat. Secondly, it was to rally people to accept the fact that, until we can stop the debris from washing ashore, we will need to keep cleaning it up. Therefore, we created a non-profit that focuses on blowing minds and creating life-changing transitions aimed at reducing everyone’s use of plastics while also helping to keep our beaches clean. This mix of proactive and reactive solutions solidifies everything we stand for.

We believe that if all we ever do is clean beaches, it’ll be an endless and unresolved project. We must focus on the source of the issue: corporations utilizing plastic, a cheap material that allows them to rake in billions of dollars while leaving the costs of dealing with their waste to the consumer and our governments. Until our politicians are no longer influenced by corporations over those who elect them, we will continue to see this problem worsening.

It’s up to us to stop using so much plastic. It’s silly to think that cleanups and recycling will fix the problem; we must hold those we elect accountable to keep our oceans and beaches clean by forcing companies to stop using so much plastic. We cannot clean, burn, or recycle our way out of this.

Kahi Pacarro
Executive Director, Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i

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