By Lauren Berger
This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website on June 26, 2013.
Maui, one of the Hawaiian Islands, is known for its beautiful beaches and amazing weather. It’s no wonder it is a huge tourist destination. But Maui is more than just a beautiful tourist destination, it is, in many ways, a model of sustainable living. The local government and population cherish this beautiful island and have made conscious efforts to encourage greener living, particularly when a tourist culture has contributed to the island’s pollution.
Prohibitive Prices Encourage Greener Living
Living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is prohibitively expensive. The majority of goods must be imported, meaning higher prices than mainland United States. For example, gasoline (which must be imported) is at least five dollars per gallon and milk can be six dollars per gallon. These extreme costs have encouraged local production and consumption of goods as well as renewable sources of energy.
The high price of energy in Maui has caused most locals to use one of the island’s greatest commodity – the sun. If you drive around Maui, you will see solar panels atop the majority of houses. Most houses use solar energy to heat their water and many houses use solar energy to power their entire homes. Using solar energy to power entire homes can reduce monthly energy bills from hundreds of dollars to under ten dollars a month. (It should be noted that installing solar panels is very expensive but there are tax breaks for residents who install panels on their homes. Residents find the panels “pay for themselves” over a few years due to the amount they save in their energy bills.) Using solar energy, rather than expensive non-renewable energy sources, saves money and provides a financial incentive to use greener technology, resulting in an increased environmental benefit.
But whether a local resident decides to use solar energy to benefit the environment or their wallet is unclear. What is clear is using solar energy and other renewable energy sources (wind energy is also utilized) makes Maui “greener” and more sustainable.
As you would expect, tourists and local residents love the ocean. If you walk on any Maui beach, you’ll find many items that harm Marine life: cigarette butts, bagged dog waste, leftover food (apple cores, nut shells), and bottles and cans. This is not due to a lack of proper disposal options: there are recycling and trash bins at every public entrance to the beach. There are many local residents who clean the beach daily, picking up after those who leave these items behind. Unfortunately, many tourists leave items like leftover food out of ignorance. They do not necessarily know that these items are harmful to the ocean and marine life.
But, as a way to combat one of the most environmentally degrading items, particularly for marine life, Hawaii has banned plastic bags (and is the first state in the U.S. to ban plastic bags). Many places require you to bring your own bag and if you don’t, only paper bags will be supplied. This keeps plastic bags from polluting the ocean and harming marine life, as well as preserving our environment as a whole. By banning plastic bags, no tourist or individual can use the bags out of ignorance, inadvertently harming the beaches and ocean they love to visit.
I found Maui to truly be the future of incorporating environmentally sustainable practices not just through individual choices, but through governmental initiatives as well. By incorporating the environment into government legislation and giving incentives for individuals to adopt sustainable practices, Maui makes living green just a part of island life.
Photo courtesy of Lauren Berger