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Bagging Litter

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Oahu
Jan 26, 2011

Today I am in Waikiki. I checked into my room at the Embassy Suites last night just in time to watch the sun set on Diamond Head from my lanai. I feel like I can touch the slopes of Leahi crater that got its nickname, Diamond Head, because of the sparkling calcite crystals that fooled hopeful 19th century British sailors.

This morning, I flung open my drapes in time to watch the sunrise.

Then, I went for my grande-soy-five-pump-no-water chai. Have you ever had a thought that keeps cropping up throughout your day? Sort of like parental advice from your childhood (sit like a lady; money doesn't grow on trees) that you can't shake no matter how old you are?

As I walked down the sidewalk, I passed a slip of paper on the ground. I looked at it long enough to note that it was the stub of a used boarding pass. In the early morning fog that is my brain, I remembered writing once about how important it is to stop to pick up slips of paper like this one. How the act, even for a scrap, completed over and over again, turns into a habit and a way of thinking about taking care of our environment as if it is our living room. And how the act of picking up litter—especially someone’s else—witnessed by others, serves, possibly, as a pay-it-forward, chain reaction. If someone sees me stopping to pick up a stray slip of paper, maybe they will stop and pick up a plastic bottle on Waikiki Beach. Or a plastic bag as it blows across the Ala Moana Center parking lot. Or maybe they will remember to pack out their own opala, rubbish, after a weekend of camping at Anini Beach Park on Kauai.

I passed two police officers chatting, and I remembered Krista Heide saying something at a ReefCheck training a couple years ago. It turned into another one of those thoughts that pops up its head periodically. I’ll never forget it, no matter how long I live. What’s with those kinds of thoughts? Should I pay particular attention to them? Or are they simple synchronicity? Or messages from a higher power? Maybe they’re my muse presenting me with creative ideas.

Anyway, she suggested that every time we go to the beach, we pick up five pieces of marine debris. I usually manage one or two, but I don’t always have enough hands and/or pockets for five.

As I crossed the street, one thought led to another, and I realized that I couldn't write about stopping to pick up a piece of paper--and applaud myself for doing so--and, then, not stop to pick up this one. I guess it's a little like telling your child not to swear or drink or take drugs. You have to tow the line, too.

By now, I was at my coffee shop. I ordered my grande-soy-five-pump-no-water chai, and I thought about how I would start carrying a trash bag (read: plastic grocery sack) in my backpack and camera bag on my visits to the beach to check on Hawaiian monk seals and nearby Laysan albatrosses. That way I could easily carry my five things home. I thought about how easily a plastic bag would fit in my pocket or pack, but something about using a plastic bag to pick up marine debris didn’t feel right, especially since I've also written about the perils of plastic in our ocean. Plus, the islands of Kauai and Maui have just enacted a plastic-bag-free ordinance. But what could I use?

I retraced my steps to the Embassy Suites, and I saw it from a distance. It was right where I'd passed it not more than 10 minutes before--on the sidewalk, face up.  This time, I picked up the ticket stub.  It once belonged to one Ms. Minami Tsumura. I imagined her fingers touching this item, handing it to a gate agent at boarding time, slipping it between the pages of a book like I do. I read her destination: HNL. Her origination: Tokyo Haneda. And I wondered whether this piece of paper, like tea leaves, tarot, smoke, or some or some other divination device, was letting me know that I would be going to Japan soon.  Hmm.

And that, I figured, was that. An observation. Some thoughts. A small act.

I continued my day, hopping in my car and heading for today's appointment:  Muumuu Heaven in Kailua, on Oahu's windward shore.

Don't let the name fool you. There is nothing matronly about this women's clothing store. In fact, it's bucking all the trends. In a supposed economic downturn, this retailer expanded from a 1,200 square foot boutique in the back of a small shopping center to 3,400 square feet and anchor status at the gateway intersection coming into the town of Kailua.

Deb Mascia started Muumuu Heaven by stockpiling vintage aloha fabrics that once lived a respectable life as muumuus back in the day. She opened the store in 2007 and has reincarnated the fabrics into stylish, new dresses, skirts, pants and, now, home furnishings like pillows and coasters and ornaments. Her creations are so stylish, in fact, that one hangs in the closet of Michelle Obama at the White House.

Deb believes in treating the environment like your living room.  She approaches recycling like a rabid dog. She reuses pockets and buttons from vintage aloha shirts. She re-purposes the scraps from a reinvented dress into quilts and teddy bears. She even rescues abandoned furniture and “stuff” and transforms it into retail display fixtures. And she contributes to the preservation of Hawaii’s coral reefs through donations to 1% For The Planet.

After snooping around the store, taking pictures and asking loads of questions, I couldn’t help myself. I slipped into a dressing room and tried on a pair of pants and, then, plopped my debit card (plastic) on the counter to pay for my find. (By the way, the feature story on Deb and Muumuu Heaven will be forthcoming on OutriggerHawaii, in case you’re interested.)

My salesperson, Carolyn, folded my receipt and placed a Hershey’s Kiss on top. She, then, spritzed my shopping bag with aromatherapy. (If you don’t have time for a spa treatment; stop in here. You’ll leave feeling just as pampered.) Let me stop here and zoom in on the bag in which my purchase was placed. It wasn’t plastic, of course. It wasn’t paper. It was—is—a recycled fabric tote bag made of rayon. The perfect, light-weight fabric that I can fold down and tuck into a pocket or backpack when I go to the beach. Now, that feels like the perfect bag to use—and re-use—to collect marine debris. I think Deb would like that.

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