A Hawaii Museum Has Eliminated the Sale of All Single-Use Plastics

The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu hopes to set a positive example in the fight for a more sustainable future

Bishop Museum exterior
Employees are contributing to the initiative by supplying reusable cups, plates and utensils for meetings, as well as bringing used plastic packaging materials from home. Daniel Ramirez via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 2.0

A large, interactive sculpture built to resemble a cresting wave stands on the grounds of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Created by artist and marine scientist Ethan Estess, the work includes more than 2,000 feet of discarded fishing nets and marine debris, offering a stark reminder of the staggering amounts of trash polluting the world’s oceans.

Estess’ sculpture, titled Plastic Free Pipeline, is part of a new exhibition exploring the science, art and culture of surfing. But his work also fits in with a broader initiative designed to promote sustainability. As Monica Castillo reports for Hyperallergic, the Bishop Museum, which is dedicated to the history, culture, and environment of Hawaii and the Pacific, recently announced that it has eliminated the sale of all single-use plastics on its campus.

Joining the museum in its battle against these ubiquitous pollutants—which include items like plastic bags, bottles, straws and foam takeout containers—are the Bishop Museum Café by Highway Inn and Shop Pacifica, both partners of the institution. In addition to doing away with single-use plastics, the museum has installed refilling stations for reusable water bottles across its campus and put up signs teaching visitors about the environmental importance of reducing single-use pollutants. Staff members are also working on incorporating a “waste-free lunch curriculum” into the Bishop’s field trip materials.

“Sustainability is one of our core values,” says museum CEO Melanie Ide in a statement.

Behind the scenes, Ide adds, employees are contributing to the initiative by supplying reusable cups, plates and utensils for meetings, as well as bringing used plastic packaging materials from home so they can be repurposed by the museum’s press when packing books for shipment.

“It truly is a campus-wide, team effort,” according to the CEO.

Single-use plastics are a major symptom of the global plastic pollution problem. Humans produce 300 million tons of plastic, half of which is used in disposable products, every year. Though these items are discarded quickly, they have a lasting effect on the environment.

Plastic doesn’t biodegrade quickly, but instead breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces known as microplastics. Whether large or small, plastic materials can have a devastating impact, leaching toxic chemicals into groundwater, choking and entangling animals, and poisoning the food chain. Plastic has become an inescapable problem; up to 12.7 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean each year, and microplastics have been found everywhere from oceans to soils, the air, and the bodies of animals and humans.

Single-use plastics are a global issue, decried by the United Nations as “one of the biggest environmental scourges of our time.” In the United States, Hawaii serves as a reminder of just how dire the crisis has become. As Carla Herreria writes for the Huffington Post, the eastern shores of the state sit relatively close to one section of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive accumulation of plastic pieces pushed together by converging currents. The patch is less like a “floating island of trash” than a “cloud of pollution,” according to Herreria. Much of it made up of microplastics that have been broken down by the waves.

Chunks of debris from the Garbage Patch often wash up across Hawaii’s shores, and because of its geographic location, Big Island—the largest of the Hawaiian archipelago—is particularly susceptible. Kamilo Point, a site on the island’s southeastern side, for instance, is so choked with junk that it has become known as “Trash Beach.”

The museum partnered with the Kōkua Hawaii Foundation’s Plastic Free Hawaiʻi project and the Surfrider Foundation on its anti-single-use plastic campaign, hoping to set a positive example in the fight to build a more sustainable future.

“[W]e’re committed to demonstrating change by taking action,” says Ide, “and instituting sustainable practices throughout our organization.”

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