Archive for the ‘Green home’ Category

Lining trash cans

August 19th, 2015

So what do you line your trash can with when there's a plastic bag ban? This is the conversation we've been having since Honolulu's plastic bag ban went into effect July 1, 2015. It seems to be the No. 1 question, with some folks going into panic mode and hopping online to order the exact, same plastic carryout bags. The kind that say "thank you" on them (alright, so you can order a case of 500 for $22.50 plus free shipping which comes out to a little less than 5-cents per bag).

Except that in Honolulu, it's still pretty easy to get a plastic bag.

1. Just get takeout lunch (Honolulu's law does not apply to prepared foods).

2. Go to Wal-Mart or Times Supermarket and check out with a thicker, plastic bag that is still acceptable due to a loophole in Honolulu's law.

The idea is to reduce, then reuse and recycle — to reduce the energy that goes into manufacturing these plastic bags that we take too much for granted, and toss too carelessly. That point seems to get lost in the conversation.

"Our main goal is not to get rid of every single plastic bag, but just to stop the tidal wave of plastic bags flowing out of grocery stores and into our waterways, trees and oceans," said Stuart Coleman of the Surfrider Foundation. "And to persuade big stores like Wal-Mart and Times that they shouldn't try skirting the law by producing thicker, plastic bags that defeat the whole purpose of why we worked so hard for over five years to pass these laws."

It falls on the educated consumer to make the decision. No one's perfect. It may just mean the days of bringing home 15-20 thin, filmy plastic bags with the groceries, including two for the gallon of milk you could have just carried in the cart, are over.

The Green Leaf sought out some suggestions on alternatives. We asked, "What do you line your trash can with, if not with plastic carryout bags from the grocery store?"


1. Consolidate and reuse (Stuart Coleman, Surfrider Foundation).

Personally, I either reuse old, plastic bags as trash liners and just dump the trash into the one big kitchen bag. Or I just don't use them in bathroom and office bins.

Stuart Coleman, manager, Surfrider Foundation, at the fashion show protesting the loophole in Honolulu's law allowing for thicker plastic bags in front of Wal-Mart Keeaumoku in July. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.

Stuart Coleman, Surfrider Foundation, at the fashion show protesting the loophole in Honolulu's law allowing for thicker plastic bags in front of Wal-Mart Keeaumoku in July. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.

2. Feed bags, reused bags. (Kahi Pacarro, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii)

What we use are feed bags from stables, reused bags from the veggie scraps we pick up from our local sandwich shop, and new bags that we buy from the store. By composting and recycling, we have only 2-3 bags of debris per week. For our bathroom cans (the size single use plastic bags are used for) we either don't line them or we use other bags that end up in our household from ordering things online from places like


3. Newspapers

OK, so I've never tried this one, but maybe I will, with the Sunday edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Lindsay, a blogger from Australia, posted this photo of newspaper layered into a wastebasket in April 2013 when the city of Fremantle banned plastic bags. She gives step by step instructions in this blog post and says she rolls the top over for disposal.

Newspaper lined wastebasket from

Newspaper lined wastebasket from

4. Woven basket, no liner

Jen Metz Kane, our trash-free year blogger, says her family only uses liners for her kitchen trash container. For all other household trash: "We just use woven baskets." As for the kitchen bags, she purchases Green Legacy bags online, which are made from green energy and oxo-biodegradable. Let me add that Jen is using reusable, cloth diapers for her baby girl. To carry wet diapers or clothes, there are several "dry/wet bags" on the market. They probably work pretty well for wet swimming suits and towels, too.

This Bumpkins wet bag on Amazon is made of "easy wipe waterproof fabric, stain and odor resistant."

This Bumpkins wet bag on Amazon is made of "easy wipe waterproof fabric, stain and odor resistant."

5. Potato chip bags, milk cartons.

This hilarious video will make you laugh out loud. It suggests using half-gallon milk cartons, potato chip bags and bread bags.

I found the link  from (No More plastic bags in the trash). There really isn't an easy answer.

My answer: Reuse and compost.

What I've found personally, even though I've brought my own bags to the grocery store for years is that you still have plenty of bags that come from somewhere. I have not run out of a supply yet, so just like everyone else, I reuse them. I get them when visitors, like my mother or mother-in-law, bring them into the house. I inherited a box full of plastic bags after helping a friend at her garage sale. I reuse bread bags and newspaper bags. I know some people are using post-consumer recycled paper bags that stores are giving out, too. I like the suggestion of using half-gallon milk cartons.

Nature mill home composters. No mess, no smells.

Nature mill home composters. No mess, no smells.

We DO continue to purchase tall, kitchen trash bags from Costco, which is no different from before. On average, we use one per week. Our plug-in NatureMill composter takes care of a lot of fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, leftovers, plus egg shells that normally would go into the kitchen trash, which leaves room to consolidate the trash from the bathroom. I call it the lazy person's composter, since you just open the top lid, put in your scraps, add baking soda and sawdust occasionally. Done. (I highly commend worm and bokashi bucket composters, as well). It's doable.

Reduce, buy in bulk

Natalie McKinney, director of program development at the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, said buying in bulk, reducing waste by recycling and not buying so many single-use items can help reduce the need for multiple trash bags per week.

Plus, if you bring your own bag, you get 5 to 10-cents credit per bag from most retail stores.

Got any other ideas or suggestions? Share them with us.

Here are singer Jack Johnson's Top 10 Plastic-Free tips.

Musician Jack Johnson's Top 10 Plastic Free Ideas.

Don't flush those wipes

August 10th, 2015

Wipes and what appears to be a piece of a knitted item, cleared from Lualualei wastewater pumping system. Photo courtesy Department of Environmental Services.

Wipes and what appears to be a piece of a knitted item, cleared from Lualualei wastewater pumping system. Photo courtesy Department of Environmental Services.

Don't flush those wipes.

So yes, it does say "flushable wipes" on the package. Cottonelle says it. So does Charmin and Huggies. The thing is that you can flush it down your toilet at home without clogging up your plumbing, but from a larger picture perspective, it's going to cause problems in Honolulu's sewer system. Consumer Reports conducted a study to see if flushable wipes are flushable. After 10 minutes in a blender, the wipes did not break down.

And even though you may think, so what? That doesn't affect me. It does. It all comes back around, in some form or other. Especially on an island. If it costs the city  more to clear up the clogged pumps, it'll eventually cost you more. If it ends up flowing over into the ocean, well, guess what you get to swim with next time you're out there?

So don't flush those wipes.

Warning: The following picture is not pretty.

The crew at Lualualei Wastewater Pump Station recently extracted an amalgam of paper towels, flushable wipes and rags from one of the pumps to make sure it doesn't mess up the machines. It's a weekly chore at the Lualualei pump station. At the West Beach pump station near Ko Olina, the crew goes more than four times a week.

Mix of "flushable" wipes, paper towels and rags that crews collected from the Lualualei wastewater pump station.Photo courtesy Honolulu Department of Environmental Services.

Mix of "flushable" wipes, paper towels and rags that crews collected from the Lualualei wastewater pump station. Photo courtesy Honolulu Department of Environmental Services.

Honolulu is not the only city that deals with it, although the problem is getting worse here, according to environmental services director Lori Kahikina. The department recently launched a radio campaign, telling the public not to flush those wipes.

In March, the New York Times ran a huge story on how the wipes were costing millions of dollars in equipment damage in New York City's sewer system. Hawaii had the honor of being named as a state plagued with the problem, along with with Alaska and California.

"The city is not alone. Wet wipes, which do not disintegrate the way traditional toilet paper does, have plagued Hawaii and AlaskaWisconsin and California. Sewer systems have been stuffed in Portland, Ore., and Portland, Me. Semantic debates have visited Charleston, W.Va., challenging the latitude of “flushability.” “I agree that they’re flushable,” said Tim Haapala, operations manager for the Charleston Sanitary Board. “A golf ball is flushable, but it’s not a good idea.”

New York Times 

So, whatever your personal lifestyle, just  know not to flush those wipes.

By the way, other items that you shouldn't flush down the toilet include: disposable diapers, napkins, paper towels and dental floss. I did not know about the dental floss. Hair is not a good thing to flush down the toilet, either.

Window A/C rebates

September 25th, 2014



Summer's officially over, but if you're still trying to cool your heels in the isles, Hawaii Energy is offering $50 rebates for anyone who trades up to an EnergyStar-rated window air conditioner.

Hawaii Energy, a ratepayer-funded energy conservation and efficiency program, is offering a $50 rebate for individuals who swap out an old working unit for a more energy efficient one. They're available on a first-come, first-served basis, but the perk is free pick-up and haul-away of the old A/C unit.

The rebates are available on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, but not Lanai or Molokai (sorry, folks).

To qualify, your unit must be EnergyStar rated and have an energy efficiency ratio of 10.8 or higher.

It's easy.

1. Pick up an application at the time of purchase of an EnergyStar A/C unit from participating retailers, including Lowe's, Sears, NEX, Home Depot and City Mill.

2. Schedule a pick-up of your old A/C unit for recycling by calling 537-5577 or (877) 231-8222.

3. Send your completed rebate application and original receipt via snail mail to Hawaii Energy, P.O. Box 3920, Honolulu, HI 96812. The rebate should arrive in the mail in eight to 10 weeks.

The switch could save you about $80 per year on your electric bill (though savings vary depending on the make, model and usage of your window A/C unit).

If you're getting a split-air A/C system, there are $150 rebates available for variable refrigerant flow air conditioners up to 24,000 BTU, and $250 rebates for units from 24,001 to 36,000 BTU. They must have a minimum SEER rating of 16.

Questions? See if the answer is in the FAQ list.


A Pono Home

February 10th, 2014


Pono Home is a Honolulu-based startup offering to "green" your home, making it more energy- and water-efficient. It's an interesting idea. After all, many of us know what should be done, but how many of us get around to doing it?

Sometimes we just don't know where to start. Oftentimes we procrastinate.

Part of what Pono Home offers is the convenience as well as the expertise of knowing how to green your home.  And they do it for you. (I would be perfectly happy to have someone else clean out the refrigerator condenser coils).

I'm a green columnist, so of all people, you would think I know how to green a home.

Getting a solar photovoltaic system was a big step in that direction.  But having a solar PV system isn't an excuse to just hog up energy in your home, either. I don't know everything. And the water bill only seems to be going in one direction these days — up.

There are plenty of great resources on the web, as well as free workshops by Hawaii Energy. Even HECO gives you plenty of tips through guides like "101 Ways to Save" and "Cool Tips" as well as in its monthly newsletter. For a guide on what to look out for in household cleaners and beauty products, the Environmental Working Group publishes guides posted free online.

Here are a few tips I didn't know (from Pono Home's learning resources link for energy efficiency):

>> Did you know storing potatoes with an apple help reduce spoilage? Or that you should leave tomatoes at room temperature with the stem facing down?

>> Did you know that keeping the fridge and freezer two-thirds full results in a 5 to 10 percent reduction in electricity use? (from

>> It's best to turn off fans when not in the room. Fans only cool you, not the room.

Till the end of February, Pono Home, one of the startups selected by clean tech incubator Energy Excelerator has an indiegogo campaign that allows you to get the service while contributing $20 to an environmental non-profit of your choice, including SEEQS, the Blue Planet Foundation, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, and others.

Rid-a-Fridge, fight hunger

January 16th, 2014

Rebates (and free pick up services) are available from Hawaii Energy for getting rid of your old fridge. You can also opt to donate your rebate to Hawaii Foodbank.

Get rid of your old fridge and help feed the hungry in Hawaii at the same time.

Hawaii Energy is offering a $25 rebate for Oahu residents who donate aging refrigerators with free pick up. On Maui and Hawaii island, Hawaii Energy is offering a $65 rebate.

By simply checking a box on the rebate application form, you can donate your rebate to the Hawaii Foodbank. The promotion continues while funding lasts. If you want to keep your rebate, of course, you may.

Replacing your old refrigerator with a newer, EnergyStar one can result in savings on your overall electricity bill (even if you have PV solar). Hawaii Energy estimates that fridges more than 20 years old can cost $275 to operate on Oahu each year. On Maui, because electricity rates are higher, they can cost $320 to operate each year. And on Hawaii island, $355 to operate each year.

On Oahu, call 537-5577 and on Maui and Hawaii island, call 1-877-231-8222 to schedule a free pickup. Afterwards, complete your application and send it in. If you'd like to donate your rebate, just check the "I'd like to make a difference" box. You will receive your application during pick up, which must be postmarked within 60 days.

Green Homes at Lualualei go native

November 6th, 2013

Planting native Hawaiian plants at the Green Homes at Lualualei. Courtesy image.

Planting native Hawaiian plants at the Green Homes at Lualualei. Courtesy image.

The Green Homes at Lualualei just got a little greener, with the addition of native plants in late October.

Volunteers planted several native Hawaiian plants at the affordable housing project's landscape, including ‘akulikuli, naio and ‘ohai, following a special briefing by Rick Barboza of Hui Ku Maoli Ola. The plants were specifically selected because they are native to the leeward Oahu area and do well in its environment.

The Green Homes at Lualualei, by developer R.J. Martin, are equipped with solar photovoltaic systems, a water purification system and insulation to keep the heat out. The community offers 25 affordable homes in all, priced below the median average. The three- and four-bedroom homes range from about $250,000 to $350.000.

Last summer, two families moved into the community.

To learn more, visit

Molokai Fridge Swap

October 21st, 2013

Delivering Energy Efficient fridges to households in Molokai as part of the Hui Up! program. Courteys photo.

Makoa Trucking helped deliver energy efficient fridges to households in Molokai as part of the Hui Up! program. Courtesy photo.

Let's hear it for brand-new, energy-efficient fridges on the Friendly Isle!

A total of 60 EnergyStar refrigerators were delivered to Molokai residents earlier this week as part of Hui UP! 3.0, an appliance exchange program offered through a partnership between Blue Planet Foundation, Hawaii Energy and Sust‘AINAble Moloka‘i.

Molokai residents were able to swap in their old fridges for a high-efficiency model for just $250, considerably less than retail prices. Pick up of old fridges, recycling and home delivery was included.

Francois Rogers, Blue Planet's special projects director, says the foundation is hoping to reach as many as 300 households on Molokai.

Sust‘AINAble Molokai helped with on-the-ground logistics, with help from Sears, Makoa Trucking, Island Movers and Refrigerant Recycling.

The Hui Up! program is a follow up to a CFL exchange program that replaced 36,000 incandescent bulbs on Molokai with Compact Fluorescent Lamps. As part of Hui Up! students from the Sust‘AINAble Molokai Youth Energy Team will visit the households and using hand-held energy monitors, they will measure the differences in energy usage.

Participants are expected to save an average of $374 a year (based on Molokai's electricity rate of 46 cents per kilowatt hour) on their individual electric bills. Collectively, over the next 10 years, 300 households would save more than $1.1 million in energy costs.

If you live on Molokai and are interested in participating in Hui UP!, visit or call 560-5410.

Shopping at Re-use Hawaii

September 21st, 2012

Lobby at Re-use Hawaii is made of the salvaged gym floor from Punahou.

Lobby at Re-use Hawaii is made of the salvaged gym floor from Punahou. Photo by Nina Wu.

The other day, I swung by the Re-use Hawaii warehouse to browse for recycled building materials.


The warehouse, at 200 Keawe St. (next door to the John A. Burns School of Medicine), first opened its doors in April 2010, and has since expanded.

Here, you can find everything from leftover, green tiles from the Wilson Tunnel to redwood lumber, windows, doors, cabinets, light chandeliers, drawer pulls, screws, hinges and even a few, occasional furniture pieces like a vintage office desk.

Cool, you could have a piece of the Wilson Tunnel in your kitchen or bathroom.

You can take a peek at what's available at this picasa link.

Re-use, a non-profit, specializes in deconstruction services, meaning it takes apart a home piece by piece, salvaging all reusable materials. It's a greener alternative  to demolition, which may be a quicker way to bring down a home, but ends up in the landfill.

The non-profit group has deconstructed hundreds of homes from Kahala to Kaimuki.

The warehouse also accepts tax-deductible donations of materials — but it's  best to check what they do or do not accept by calling or sending an email to first.

The last time I checked, they were accepting appliances less than 5 years old, screws, nuts, bolts, and tile measuring at least 25 square feet. They were not accepting cultured marble, aluminum sliding doors, hollow core slab doors, carpet or toilets. Glass, paint, office partitions, vinyl are also not accepted. Click here for more details.

Re-use Hawaii Warehouse is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Visit or call 537-2228 to drop off donations.

Window frames of varying sizes available at Re-use Hawaii Warehouse. Photo by Nina Wu.

Window frames of varying sizes available at Re-use Hawaii Warehouse. Photo by Nina Wu.

Time to go solar

April 2nd, 2012

There's this Hawaiian Electric Co. commercial that ran at the start of the year, as part of a series of ads aiming to educate the public (and paid for with shareholder funds).

No, not the one where Jade Moon interviews HECO executive Robbie Alm. It's the one where Jade Moon interviews two HECO representatives — Ka‘iulani De Silva from education and consumer affairs and Blaine Cacho, an account manager.

The script goes something like this.

Jade Moon: "Does conservation really work?"

Ka‘iulani De Silva (smiling sympathetically): "We know high electricity costs are frustrating for our customers. But simple steps can amount to surprising savings."

"That's right," chimes in Blaine Cacho, matter-of-factly. "If you turn off the air-conditioner and let the tradewinds cool your home, you can save more than $1,000 a year."

While watching this commercial or whatever you call it, I found myself talking to the TV. "But we don't have any air-conditioning in this house! Not even a window unit!" I said.

Summers are sweltering in our house. We turn on fans and desperately open up all of the windows, wishing the tradewinds would flow through the house (if only it was built with the windows facing the right direction). The best solution seems to be an escape to the beach.

Our electricity bill currently averages about $200 a month, which is about $50 higher than it was a few years ago (along with everybody else's).

Then Jade asks Blaine about a second refrigerator and he says if it's a really old model, it could be using up plenty of energy. Removing it, he says, could also save you more than $1,000 a year.

"But we don't have a second fridge!" I said. We only have one fridge. It isn't fancy, but it's not one of the old models, either.

The HECO representatives, with pleasant, wanting-to-help smiles, dole out more tips. Washing your laundry in cold water can save more than $800 a year, adds De Silva.

"But we already wash in cold water!" I told the folks on T.V. "We've been doing that for years."

So seriously, what more can we do? HECO has a whole slew of publications with more energy-saving tips which you can find by clicking on "Energy Savings Toolkit." You have the "Power to Save" pamphlet as well as the "101 Ways to Save" brochure and the "Energy Tips & Choices" booklet. HECO does do a good job of putting out all these education pamphlets.

Still, our bill hasn't gone down much lately.

Did I mention that we already have a solar water heater and that we line-dry, too? Well, most of the time. On rainy days, we do resort to the dryer.

Lately, I've been walking around the house, flipping off the lights (yes, powered by energy-efficient compact fluorescents, mind you) and switching off various power strips at night, too. I bought an energy-saving "smart" power strip which keeps the DVD player from sucking out energy when it's not in use.

Since 2010, monthly bills have risen by 50 percent, says Alm, almost all of it due to oil. In the wake of the tsunami in Japan, oil has largely replaced nuclear energy, causing prices in the Asia Pacific region to skyrocket.

The cost of electricity is only going one way – up. You know what I think? I think it's time to go solar. The federal and state tax credits are still available, and there's still enough room in plenty of neighborhoods without HECO's concerns about destabilizing their circuits.

Do you know how much solar PV there is on your street? You can look it up on this map.

Stay tuned.

My Bokashi Bucket

February 20th, 2012

Here is my Bokashi Bucket, filled with apple, banana peels and rice.

Here is my Bokashi Bucket, filled with apple and banana peels, old rice and macaroni.

Since writing about Throw To Grow, I've decided to give the Bokashi Bucket a try.

The Bokashi Bucket, in case you haven't heard of it, is an anaerobic composting system that ferments your food waste (including meat, dairy and bones) into rich, gardening soil. It's basically a 5-gallon bucket tucked inside of another one with a spigot that you can keep indoors in your kitchen.

Each One Teach One Farms entrepreneur Jim DiCarlo sells the bucket systems at Haleiwa, Ala Moana and Hawaii Kai Farmers' Markets. You can also find them at Kale's Natural Foods and the North Shore Organic Gardening in Waialua.

If you're handy, you could probably pick up two buckets from Lowe's, Home Depot or City Mill and make the system yourself, except for the activator mix (basically bran mixed with molasses and microorganisms), which is a more involved process. Jim sells a jar of the mix for just $5 at farmers' markets.

What I like about it, so far, is that it seems easy to use.

I keep my bucket on a little step stool in the kitchen, next to the trash can. Once a day, or once every other day, you take your food scraps, open the lid up, toss them in and close the lid again. When the food scraps are at about three inches, you take your jar of bokashi activator mix (basically bran mixed with microorganisms and molasses) and sprinkle some on top.

I wouldn't say it's completely odorless. Hopefully I'm doing it right, but there is definitely a sort of sweet and sour, pickled smell every time I open up the bucket.

It's not pleasant, but it's not horribly unpleasant, either. My husband says he can tell every time I open the lid, because he gets a whiff, but it usually goes away after we turn on the kitchen ceiling fan for a few minutes.

So far, I've thrown all kinds of stuff in the bucket — orange peels, avocado and banana peels, apple cores, celery, ginger, egg shells, old pasta, old rice, a whole head of lettuce that went bad, a whole box of granola cereal (that some ants had gotten into), a whole rotisserie chicken carcass and salmon skin.

The word "bokashi" has turned into a verb in our household. Now I say, "Are you done with this? Should I bokashi it?"

My bucket is about half full, so far. When you open up the bucket, you won't see any transformation of the food yet. Apparently that happens after it all goes into the ground.

So far, so good.

Some things that are good to know: You want to only add fresh, not rotten (or moldy) food or it will smell. It's a good idea to place a paper or ceramic plate on top to basically compress all the air down. It's best also to keep the bucket away from sunlight.

For more tips on using the Bokashi Bucket, go to

We have a worm composting bin, as well, in the garage, and usually I put on gloves to open the lid, move aside the shredded paper, before tossing in food scraps. Separating the worms from the vermicompost is a messy chore in itself (I make my husband do it). What's nice about the worms is that you can throw moldy stuff in there. What I find challenging is that we usually have way more food scraps than the worms can process (since we just started with a small starter kit, which took a year to grow into a small bin). I often wonder whether it might be good to invest in  a Can-O-Worms system that can take more food waste.

The bucket doesn't take up a lot of space, but seems to be able to handle the volume. So far it's not too much of a hassle to throw the food scraps in there. My dog sniffs the bucket lid with interest every time I open it, but she's not too interested in digging through it (thank goodness). I can't wait to see how this all works once the bucket contents go into the ground. Will keep you posted.

Here's a cool video from Kasha Ho at Kanu Hawaii explaining how she tried out her Bokashi Bucket: Bokashi "Unbucketing" from Kasha Ho on Vimeo.