Many of Hawaii's visitor businesses will tour you around the islands in a bus or a limo, showing you the sights and offering various tempting freebies. With the advent of four modern NCL cruise ships in the islands, there's a lot more highway traffic in the HOV lanes.
But some of you have asked me how to see the real
Hawaii that you can't find in the guidebooks. Luckily our local tax dollars are supporting just the thing we're all looking for: the "Tours de Trash"
They're free, but these tours are extremely popular and they're booked six months in advance. Our first one was three years ago and it took us that long to synch up our schedules, our interests, and their availability for our second one. You start at Kapolei Hale at 8:15 AM and you're generally finished by 3 PM, including a lunch stop at lovely Kapolei Shopping Center's McDonalds.
Our first tour in 2003, #5 Recycling and Waste Processors, was a fascinating look at the HPower trash-burning electricity-generating plant, the Waimanalo Gulch landfill, and several recycling businesses. One of the HPower execs was even a retired Navy nuclear submariner, and I instantly understood why-- it felt like coming home again. Even the smells are the same.
Our second tour last week, #4 Construction & Demolition, was a reprise of #5 with some interesting surprises. Hawaiian Earth Products still composts the island's green waste a football field at a time, but they have a new compost-turning tractor that farmers would pay money to drive. Grace Pacific runs an asphalt-recycling business and a basalt quarry along H-1 near Kapolei that I never knew existed. It's cleverly hidden among the hills & gulches but it recycles nearly 75% of the island's roads.
Hawaii Metal Recycling buys your junked cars ($60/ton) and turns them into shredded metal. They'll grind nearly 8000 vehicles into 15,000 tons of fist-sized chunks that would fill the volume of a basketball court. The interesting surprise is that their public-relations spokeswoman is Rene Mansho, our former city councilwoman sent to the State Pen in 2002
for a pesky little misunderstanding over campaign funds and the misuse of state resources. This was my first lecture from a convicted felon on how to maximize my environmental assets, and I would've made some entertaining editorial comments if spouse had let me open my mouth.
Top tour honors go to Baseyard Hawaii, which I thought was some sort of state construction facility but which is actually a 501(c)3 redirecting donated building materials to needy local homeowners. You can also buy a membership and shop their inventory at a 50% discount. Two ladies were sweating in an un-air-conditioned office less than a mile from lofty Kapolei Hale and managing an acre of excess toilets, doors, windows, shades, and who knows what else. I'm still trying to figure out where we need to use a set of solid koa sliding doors that must be 75 years old.
Another unexpected tour benefit was its "Stay in school, kids" sideshow. A three-man crew at HMR uses cutting torches to slice up the bigger metal chunks (truck chassis) for the shredder. They were out in the blazing Ewa sun, no canopies or shades, dressed in full leather body armor with respirators & goggles, sparking & fuming away in a refulgent scene reminiscent of the 1977 "Star Wars" movie droid scavengers. Another "Stay in school, kids" group at HEP was in charge of trash bags. Green waste is supposed to be stuffed into a bin for automated collection, and if it's bagged then the minimum-wage workers have to open the bags and verify that the contents are green waste. Unfortunately homeowners try to smuggle their excess trash into the green waste-- or they get the occasional deceased housepet that a grieving owner mistakenly believes can be composted. Again it was a dozen guys in an open field with full-body apron shields, facemasks, & heavy gloves. They probably had all their tetanus, typhoid, and hepatitis shots too.
This bus tour reminded me that I may not be cut out to be a perpetual traveler. During my college days I followed the football team for a couple hundred thousand miles on long-haul buses & airplanes. It was not fun but I was young and I didn't know that anything better existed. Today I can handle a six-hour bus tour, but there's no way that I'll do it for an Elderhostel week or a tour through a foreign country. Send me the video...