The Green Leaf

Living trash-free

March 9th, 2015
Jen Metz Kane and Adam Kane at checkout, Down to Earth Organic and Natural. They brought their own reusable bags and containers for bulk honey, raisins, mueslix and oats (and a cookie). Photo by Nina Wu.

Jen Metz Kane and Adam Kane at checkout, Down to Earth Organic and Natural. They shop with their own reusable bags and containers. Photos by Nina Wu.

You can say Jen Metz Kane inspires me.

Whereas I bring my own reusable bags to the grocery and retail store, she takes it a step further by bringing her own, reusable produce bags and purchases items in bulk. So okay, I can try to do that, too. I saw this woman at checkout once with  these reusable mesh bags for produce that gave me a flash of inspiration, but never followed through. This will be the month to try it.


Jen, an environmental educator, actually challenged herself to live a trash-free year from  Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2011 and blogged about it at

It was all prompted by news that Honolulu, with its overflowing landfills, was going to ship its trash to Washington state (remember that?). That's a pretty crazy idea, and it never panned out, anyways, when tribes from the Yakama Nation filed suit to stop it. After all, they didn't want thousands of tons of trash being transported along their reservation, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

She put a lot of thought into what to buy, avoiding items with too much packaging. She started a compost. She got creative "upcycling" items that normally go in the trash.

In one year, she made lots of compost — and just one 1-gallon Ziplock bag full of items that could not go in the compost bin or be recycled. Though the challenge is done, she continues the lifestyle.

"It's no hardship once you get in the habit of it," she said at Down to Earth Organic and Natural.

I tagged along as she and her husband, Adam, purchased a few items in the bulk section using reusable ChicoBag produce bags (and one made from an old T-shirt). She keeps all of the bags in a lauhala basket in the car. And by the way, she throws these reusable bags in with the regular load of laundry each time (so they do get washed).

From the bulk bins, she bought honey (in a reusable water bottle), mueslix, oat flour, carob chips and raisins. Bulk cocoa went into a Hershey's can from a previous purchase. Sounds like the ingredients for oat raisin muffins. To cut down on the sticker labels for bulk items, she just lists all of the items on the back of a reused business card to relay to the cashier at checkout.

Usually, she brings her own jars to buy freshly ground peanut butter and almond butter. Even a cookie from the baked goods section goes into a cloth bag, not a throw-away paper bag.

Adam Kane reusing a Hershey's cocoa can for a bulk purchase at Down to Earth.

Adam Kane reusing a Hershey's cocoa can for a bulk purchase at Down to Earth.

After Down to Earth, they headed to Foodland for local produce and fruits, plus eggs (only in the pressed paper containers, which she shreds and puts in her compost), using the reusable produce bags. At Whole Foods, she buys the freshly baked loaf of bread, requests it sliced but puts it in her own cloth bag. Then brings it home and puts it in a clean, reused bread bag.

As Jen explained, they also have a CSA (community supporting agriculture) subscription from Just Add Water that provides a lot of produce from local farms in Hawaii.

It's a lot more than what most people would do.

And yet, search online, and you'll see that there are  a few individuals publicly embracing this zero-waste lifestyle. In Oakland, Calif., there's plastic-free Beth. There's the Zero-Waste family of (video) with Bea Johnson, a Frenchwoman who lives in Mill Valley, Calif.. There's also this young woman in New York City who lives a zero-waste life. (Video).

platesnapkinsIt'll be interesting to see how Jen and Adam tackle a trash-free lifestyle with the arrival of a baby girl, expected in April. For starters, she's going with reusable diapers. At an eco-friendly baby shower, they brought their own plates, silverware and cloth napkins, and set up a little compost pail. Gifts came in reusable  bags or reused gift bags.


Kids potentially create a whole other level of consumption, from birth to toddlerhood and beyond. I write this as I try to tame what looks like an explosion of a four-year-old's (and a dog's) toys across the floor, a trail of stickers and dried out play dough on the coffee (now play) table.

Still, in future generations, I don't think the Yakama Nation, nor any community on the U.S. mainland, wants Hawaii's shrink-wrapped trash shipped to their land again. If we generate trash, we should deal with our own trash, manage it and reduce it. It all starts, perhaps, with mindfulness and a simple step.

Honolulu's plastic checkout bag ban goes into effect July 1. It includes the plastic checkout bag so many of us have taken for granted for so many years. It does not include the produce bags you find inside grocery stores for vegetables, fruits and bulk items, bags used to wrap meat or flowers, nor does it include plastic bags for takeout food from restaurants and lunch wagons. Find the details at You can follow Jen on Twitter @trashfreeyear.

2 Responses to “Living trash-free”

  1. environmental_lady:

    I laud Jen's efforts. I already do the same on the Big Island bringing my own reusable bags to farmer's market after washing them out. Also, if I eat at the local health food store deli I bring my own plate and weigh it first. I don't see anyone else bringing their own plates. Also I buy bulk as much as possible. We don't have trash service where I live so we have to haul out our own trash. I create so little that I can haul it out on my bicycle once a month.

  2. rubbishclearancecamden:

    Zero waste lifestyle is going viral and their is no deny! That's because people see that this is the only way to reduce our footprint. Bringing reusable bag when shopping, buying in bulk, reducing stuff in your life are essentials when being a zero waster. But that's not enough - one should think first, instead of consume!

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