We made a Saturday run to the Central Maui Landfill recently to recycle our Christmas tree, which had lain near the garage for a while, still smelling like the forest even though its needles were brown.
(Yes, we are always the very last in the neighborhood to get around to this. People who take the tree down the first weekend in January we are not. It takes so long to decorate and put up, I favor getting it disposed of by Chinese New Year.)
I like going new places, even if it is a dump, and my inner child found this a happy place. Yellow painted truck tires demarcate the parking lot at the green waste disposal site near the Maui EKO Compost facility. The view of what locals call "Pu'u Opala," a landscaped mountain filled with garbage - sorry, solid waste - covered with grass and evidently lined with sprinklers.
There's something about being in an open space on a beautiful day, with other people enjoying themselves, doing something constructive and repetitious. It reminded me of earlier days on Kauai when a friend and I opened a gift shop in an old Chinese general store on the west side of the island.
Days of cleaning were highlighted by runs to the Waimea dump, which was just that, an unfancy place. The field was near the ocean and strewn with yellow daisies. People dropped off all manner of things, so much that we knew people who furnished their house with articles from it. I recall a baby stroller. That dump run meant pau hana and a finale at the Dairy Queen.
A dump run had some good associations for me as we backed up with a row of other vehicles to the 6-foot-high wall of clippings and made our contribution. On one side guys from a yard service company laughed and joked with the bulldozer operator as they unloaded coconut debris from the back of their truck, on the front seat of which sat a six-pack of beer. One vehicle down on the other side, a haole guy with a white beard conscientiously pulled dried rubber tree leaves from a beaten-up pickup.
Next to us someone stood in the bed of a black Toyota Tundra unceremoniously tossing out the remains of two or three freshly cut citrus trees, full of shiny tangerines, yellow oranges and fragrant flowers.
"They still have fruit on them," I pointed out.
"It's dry," he said. I didn't believe it. When he roared off, the bearded guy and I descended on the pile to harvest the fruit.
"He says it's dry," the guy said.
"It's not," I said. "Strange," he said, shaking his head as we picked a shopping bag full while he loaded up his shirt. "Strange."
Dude! What happened to sharing with your neighbors? Barring that, guess you haven't heard of Waste Not Want Not, the group that will come to your house, harvest unwanted fruit and deliver it to seniors, kids and the needy? (Call 874-8038 or contact email@example.com.)
The recycled fruit looked beautiful on our kitchen counter, filled two glistening bowls with luscious orange and made delicious juice.
As we left the landfill, the avid recycler in our dyad turned left to inspect the row of trees fronting the landfill along Omaopio Road, once festooned with unsightly plastic bags flapping in the wind. "I don't see any garbage by the side of the road," he said. "I think the ban was a good thing."
I have been trained to throw our recyclables into a pile in the garage, which he then tackles every other Wednesday night, dividing into categories. "There's two bags each, for plastic, metal and glass containers," he patiently explained. "One bag for redeemables, one for not." He flattens all the cardboard, pushes the plastic bags into the largest one he can find, and organizes the newspapers. He makes a special trip to Aloha Waste off of Hobron to deliver mixed paper. Last week he fished chicken wire out of a garbage can we share with our neighbor and dragged it to a scrap yard, and the same day scored a brand-new Krispy Kreme bag to replace the tattered one we use for newspapers.
The day ended with a trip to Mana, where the newly installed LED lights felt wonderful compared to the oppressive fluorescents. As we left, we spotted an elderly man on the corner who had dragged a trash can to his shopping cart, where he was, yes, carefully sorting its recyclables.
Sustainable Maui. Maybe step by step we're slowly getting there.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.