Archive for the ‘Lifestyle’ Category

A Pono Home

February 10th, 2014
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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 greenlivingideas.com)

>> 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.

The BYOB movement

January 13th, 2014
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Plastic bag caught in the fence near Kakaako Waterfront Park. Photo by Nina Wu.

Plastic bag caught in the fence near Kakaako Waterfront Park. Photo by Nina Wu.

I think it's happening.

Despite sluggishness, and resistance, I detect a BYOB —  bring your own bag — movement gaining momentum in Hawaii. Starting Friday, Hawaii county joins Maui and Kauai counties in officially banning conventional, plastic carryout bags.

Honolulu, the most populated of the isles, should have been at the forefront, but instead will be the last to join the ban, which takes effect in July 2015 (despite the law being signed by former Mayor Peter Carlisle in 2012). Hawaii, one of the states most vulnerable to the damaging effects of plastic in our oceans, should have been at the forefront of the plastic bag ban, as well.

But let's not focus on what should have been. Let's focus on the here and now.

Here, in Honolulu, you can take steps to reduce plastic bags, now, by using reusable bags. It's low-cost, even no-cost (because you don't have to go out and buy reusable bags, though plenty are available) and requires just a little bit of effort. I notice more people in the checkout line bringing their own bags. I no longer get my groceries automatically swept into a plastic bag when I bring my own bags (plus bringing your own bag is an option at self checkout). And at some stores, they actually say, "Thanks for bringing a bag!"

It's also a matter of wanting to reduce the use of plastic bags, because I imagine some people are actually hoarding them in preparation for the day when stores will no longer be giving them out at checkout.

Here are the top three excuses:

1. I FORGOT MY BAGS. One way to avoid this is to keep them in the car, or whatever means of transportation you have to the grocery store. You can also keep a small one (foldable in a pouch, like chicobag, envirosax, etc.) in your purse or backpack, handy for a quick run to the store. Or just use your backpack. Speaking of bags, I've found, from a practical point of view — that the large, square-bottomed and insulated ones work best. Trader Joe bags have also been great, flat on the bottom and durable. I've been bringing my own bags to the grocery store consistently over the years, and trying to remember to bring them to places like Long's Drugs and other retail outlets, too. Some boutiques are also starting to hand over purchases in reusable bags — a trend I like.

2. THERE AREN'T ENOUGH BAGS. Right. So get 15 to 20 reusable bags or more, if you need to, and go for the large and sturdy ones. You can also use beach totes, backpacks and baskets. If you're just heading from the store straight to your car with a shopping cart, you don't really need a double plastic bag to carry that six-pack of Coke or gallon of milk.  Follow Costco's lead and reuse an empty cardboard box.

3. I REUSE THE BAGS AT HOME. Sure, reuse is one of the three R's. But reduce comes before reuse. I understand. I use them to line my trash cans, too. I end up getting takeout lunch handed to me in a plastic bag. There are alternatives. I have a dog, too, but I don't typically use grocery bags to pick up poop – preferring reused bread bags, newspaper bags and Biobags instead. This is a tough one, and I'll let you know if I find a good alternative.

I still need to work on it, myself. But we can all try a little more.

I think charging a fee for paper bags is a good idea, since they cost more to produce and aren't necessarily any better for the environment. Seattle has done just that. The plastic bags that stores give out aren't necessarily free, either, but come with a cost that's probably calculated in overhead and passed on to the consumer. The Sierra Club cited a study in Seattle that determined a net cost of about $121 per ton of plastic bags that end up in the landfill annually. The cost to the environment is even higher.

Come on. No more excuses. You can bring your own bags to the store, some of the time or all of the time, even before the law kicks in next year.

Rise Above Plastics

October 4th, 2013
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Our ocean is turning into a plastic soup. Image courtesy Flickr/CesarHarada on www.rapmonth.org.

Our ocean is turning into a plastic soup. Image courtesy Flickr/CesarHarada on www.rapmonth.org.

The Surfrider Foundation and Teva are bringing back "Rise Above Plastics Month" in October, with the goal of educating people on the threats that single-use plastics pose to marine environments.

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"Plastic is the most common type of marine litter worldwide, comprising up to 90 percent of floating marine debris," says Laura Lee, Surfrider's director of marketing and communications.

Once again, Surfrider and Teva are offering the third annual "One Foot at a Time" plastic cleanup and art contest. To participate, artists collect one square foot of trash from their beach or community, then use the material to create a mosaic sculpture using one of the "Rise Above Plastics" templates.

This year, the templates are Halloween-themed, and include a bat, pumpkin, ghost, spider, skull or the Teva logo.

Snap a photo and email to OneFoot@surfrider.org. Prizes for winners include gear from Teva, Firewire Surfboards and the Surfrider Foundation. Also, anyone who renews their Surfrider Foundation membership or donates $35 this month receives two Halloween-themed, reusable ChicoBags.

Here's a look at the single-use plastics we use on a daily basis in Honolulu (and simple ways to change this):

>> Plastic forks, spoons and knives. I admit to being guilty on this one, even though I know better, often when getting takeout lunch during the work week. The solution is simple — just bring your own fork from home or buy one of those bamboo utensil sets that you can carry with you (which I have, but often forget). At the very least, if you forget, you can always reuse plastic forks, turning them from single-use to multiple-use.

>> Plastic cups and straws. If you're a daily iced coffee or espresso drinker like me, then you probably get a single-use plastic cup and straw which you throw away after you're done drinking your beverage. The solution is to bring your own cup and reusable straw. Starbucks and many other cafes sell them. Starbucks even gives you a 10-cent discount for bringing a personal cup, which adds up after awhile.

>> Plastic grocery bags. Sure, we all reuse them to line our trash cans or to pick up dog poop, but there are so many times when the bags are unnecessary. If you bring your own bags to the grocery store, kudos to you! I've been pretty good about this one for the past few years. You can reduce plastic bags further by also bringing your own bag to retail stores, which I've been trying to do more often. Also, sometimes you can just say, "No thanks!" if you really don't have that much stuff. If you are just buying a handful of apples at the store, you don't always need to bag them. Just let the cashier ring them up loose, then throw in your reusable bag.

>> Plastic bottles. Most of us are aware that those plastic bottles for water, soda and juices are worth 5-cents apiece if you redeem them at Reynold's Recvycling. If you don't have the time to do so, then you can donate them or throw them into your blue bin for curbside pickup. So there's no excuse for NOT recycling plastic beverage bottles. On the other hand, it would be better to REDUCE the plethora of single-use plastic bottles by bringing a reusable bottle to fill up with water from the cooler, tap or fountain.

>> Plastic ziplock  bags: I confess to being guilty on this one, too. I often use ziplocks to pack snacks for my son, but what we can do to reduce the use of plastic is to simply wrap sandwiches in a napkin, wax paper or how about aluminum foil? You can also buy a reusable sandwich or snack bag from ChicoBag or LunchSkins.

>> Halloween Trick-or-Treat bags: Instead of plastic, go for felt buckets or good-quality, reusable bags that you can reuse year after year. I found an adorable, felt bucket shaped like a pumpkin for my son to use at Halloween last year. We'll be bringing it out and using it again this year.

The whole mission of Rise Above Plastics is to just be more aware. RAP is also a good reminder for those of us who already know, to remember, and to do better.

Most plastic pollution at sea starts out as litter on land, including beaches, streets and sidewalks, according to Surfrider. After plastics enter the marine environment, they slowly photodegrade and break down into smaller pieces that fish and turtles mistake for food. Our ocean is turning into plastic soup.

If you're interested in learning more, visit Surfrider's Rise Above Plastics page or check out this great educational toolkit. Surfrider also offers these 10 simple ways to rise above plastics.

A Plastic Free Life

September 17th, 2013
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A photo of a dead bird with its belly full of plastic is what convinced Beth Terry of Oakland, Calif. to start living a plastic-free life. in June 2007. She was recovering from surgery when she saw the picture and an article, called "Our Oceans Are Turning Into Plastic....Are We?" (featuring the findings of Capt. Charles Moore).

Plastic-Free-book-photo-front-500-375Terry, the author of "Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too" and myplasticfreelife.com (formerly fake plastic fish) blogger, will be speaking at various venues in Honolulu Sept. 20 to 22.

She'll be offering personal anecdotes and statistics on the environment and health problems related to plastic, as well as personal solutions and tips. She is also You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Here's a schedule (the presentations are free):

>> Friday, Sept. 20, 4:15-6:15 p.m. at University Laboratory School, Honolulu

>> Saturday, Sept. 21, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Ma‘ili Point, following the International Coastal Cleanup

>> Sunday, Sept. 22, 2:30-3:30 p.m. at The Art Explorium, Kaimuki

Visit the Kokua Hawaii Foundation's website or email plasticfree@kokuahawaiifoundation.org for more info. Don't forget to bring a reusable water bottle!

Rain Garden Manual is out

April 17th, 2013
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Hot off the press: Hui O Koolaupoko's "Hawai‘i Residential Rain Garden Manual" is out.

It's available for download at this link or also from Hui O Koolaupoko for $20.

The manual offers homeowners the information they need to build a rain garden to capture and infiltrate storm water from their property. Rain gardens — flat-bottomed depressions in the ground that capture excess water and pollutants from rooftops, driveways, sidewalks, parking lots and streets — are low-cost, effective ways to participate in ocean protection.

Students recently built a rain garden on the slopes of Hawaii Pacific University's windward campus next to the Nursing Annex.

Cities like Seattle actually offer a rebate for installing cisterns and rain gardens.

Ko‘olaupoko residents are also eligible to participate in Hui O Koolaupoko's Rain Garden Co-op program, which covers the costs for rain garden materials and recruits volunteers to build one at your home. Visit their website for more information.

More green gift ideas

December 18th, 2012
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Plant a koa tree as a gift that will continue growing and giving. Visit www.legacytrees.org. Photo courtesy of Walczuk Productions.

Plant a koa tree as a gift that will continue growing and giving. Visit www.legacytrees.org. Photo courtesy of Walczuk Productions.

You have seven more days to go until Christmas. Looking for more green gift ideas? Here are some ideas that go beyond the conventional gift — but have an impact that is far-reaching and long-lasting.

Plant a Koa Legacy tree: For $60, you can plant a koa legacy tree on Hawaii island, whether in honor of an individual, event or to memorialize a loved one. The trees are tracked with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag with GPS tracking that provides a unique signature and includes the sponsor's name, honoree, date planted and location of the tree. You may visit the trees you have planted (with 2 weeks of advance notice). Price is $60 (with $20 going to the charity of your choice) Another $1 goes to The Nature Conservancy in Hawaii . Visit www.legacytrees.org.

The Upena Hi/Lo Dress inspired by Hawaiian throw nets from Kealopiko. www.kealopiko.com

The Upena Hi/Lo Dress inspired by Hawaiian throw nets from Kealopiko. www.kealopiko.com

Kealopiko Creations: Ke alopiko translates to "belly of the fish," and offers custom apparel from Hawaii Nei, including shirts, shorts and dresses with unique prints of plants and sea animals. The apparel is made up of 100-percent organic cotton, with eco-friendly dye methods and designed in Hawaii. Visit www.kealopiko.com or find them at Native Books/Na Mea Hawaii or Flowerchild Boutique on Kapahulu.

blueWaterkeeper bracelet: Make a $50 donation to the Waterkeeper Alliance (The Voice of the World's Water) based in New York and receive a handmade Agate Bracelet with a stamped charm. Waterkeeper's mission is to provide a way for communities to stand up for their right to clean water as well as the "wise and equitable use" of water resources, locally and globally.

Green gift ideas

December 10th, 2012
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This holiday season, you won't have to look far for "green" gift ideas. Here are a few suggestions on items that someone can use for the rest of the year — and longer — that help reduce the use of disposable plastics and paper.

* S'well bottles. The S'well reusable beverage bottles have a sleek, elegant design and can be used for both hot and cold beverages (which is great, because I know a lot that can only be used for one or the either). They're double-walled, made of stainless steel and come in seven cool colors. By the way, Oprah loves them, too. $35. Spotted at Lanikai Home + Style. Visit www.swellbottle.com.

These Swell bottles are good for both hot or cold beverages, and fit in most car cupholders.

These S'well bottles are good for both hot or cold beverages, and fit in most car cupholders.

* ChicoBags. This is a great Secret Santa gift for anyone who goes shopping because you know he or she can definitely use it. The ChicoBag is a reusable bag that you can easily tuck back into its drawstring to put in your purse or pocket. This one caught my eye - it's part of the Solstice Collection — with a colorful, custom-designed "flower burst" print on a reusable should-style bag. $12.99. Found it at Down to Earth. Visit www.chicobag.com.

This Chico Bag has a custom-designed print from the "Solstice Collection" and can easily be tucked away in your purse or backpack.

This Chico Bag has a custom-designed print from the "Solstice Collection" and can easily be tucked away in your purse or backpack.

L.I.F.E. jackets. This is the perfect stocking stuffer at just 99 cents, but it goes a long way. These reusable coffee sleeves are handmade in Kenya by a special group of women, providing them the opportunity to provide for their families. Each jacket is screen-printed. Reduce your use of cardboard coffee sleeves — you won't need one with this reusable one. Available at Whole Foods Markets for just 99 cents if you purchase a cup of coffee. Visit www.ctcinternational.org.

The L.I.F.E. jacket helps women in Kenya support their families. You reduce your use of disposable cardboard coffee sleeves.

The L.I.F.E. jacket helps women in Kenya support their families. You reduce your use of disposable cardboard coffee sleeves.

The Tesla S is here

October 8th, 2012
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The Tesla Model S has arrived in the Hawaiian islands. Photo from Teslamotors.com gallery.

The Tesla Model S has arrived in the Hawaiian islands. Photo from Teslamotors.com gallery.

The Tesla Model S electric sedan has arrived in Honolulu and will be introduced at a presss conference Tuesday morning (Oct. 9) hosted by the Blue Planet Foundation and Volta Industries.

Concerns over limited travel range, limited seating and "sexiness" were all adressed in the new Tesla Model S, which travels up to 300 miles per charge (at 55 miles per hour), seats up to seven and accelerates from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 6.5 seconds.

The Tesla S interior features a 17-inch WiFI control center.

The Tesla S interior features a 17-inch touchscreen with WiFi-enabled control center. Photo from teslamotors.com.

Prices start at a more affordable $49,000 (with federal tax incentives up to $7,500). The Tesla Roadster, by contrast, starts at prices over $100,000. There are also battery options that include 40, 60 and 85 kilowatt hours. Inside the Model S offers a 17-inch touchscreen with a WiFi-enabled control center.

They come in signature red, black, silver and white.

Hawaii commuters currently drive a total of 29 million miles a day, burning an average of $5.4 million in gas, emitting 13,500 tons of carbon dioxide pollution, according to Blue Planet. Electric cars offer an alternative.

Hawaii is on its way to reaching an expected milestone of 1,000 registered EVs this month.

Tesla's first run of the Model S included 3,000 vehicles. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company plans to manufacture 20,000 of the Model S for 2013. Reservations are available at www.teslamotors.com/own.

Plastic bags and dog poop

April 26th, 2012
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Plastic carryout  bags are expected to be banned in Honolulu starting in 2015, if the mayor signs it into law. Star-Advertiser photo.

Plastic carryout bags are expected to be banned in Honolulu starting in 2015, if the mayor signs it into law. Star-Advertiser photo.

Honolulu City Council passed a bill on Wednesday banning nonbiodegradable plastic bags at checkout starting July 1, 2015.

Well, it's about time, given that the neighbor isles (Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island) have already passed plastic bag bans. Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle still has to sign the bill.

So what if there's a plastic bag ban in Honolulu?

The first reaction you get from most folks opposed to the ban is — what am I going to line my wastebaskets with from now on, and from dog owners,  how am I going to pick up my dog's poop? I've had this conversation at the dog park, and there are some owners who are really resolute about their right to a plastic bag just for this very reason.

Finding alternatives to line your wastebasket with is tricky, I'll admit. I do reuse stray plastic bags (that somehow get sneaked into the house) to line the wastebasket.

But for the last two to three years, I've  been bringing my own bags to the grocery store and more and more, to other retail stores as well — or sometimes, simply saying, "No Thanks." I never really understood why you would need a small, plastic bag if you were simply buying a candy bar or bag of potato chips — couldn't you just take the receipt and put it straight into your purse or backpack?

As the owner of a Springer spaniel named Kona — and as the official dog walker in the family — yes, I do have the unglamorous task of picking up her poop. I haven't really found it difficult since switching to reusable bags.

The bag ban would not affect the bags used to package loose fruit, vegetables and nuts, nor does it affect newspaper bags.

We have a newspaper delivered to the door every morning, sometimes in just one bag and sometimes two. These bags actually are the perfect size for picking up dog poop – I find grocery bags to be more unwieldy, with a flyaway effect.

Bread bags also work — every time we go through a loaf of bread, I save the bag and reuse it.  It still probably isn't the greenest choice — maybe someone some day will invent a new way to pick up dog poop.

There's such a plethora of plastic bags in our lives that honestly, it's not a big deal to give up plastic checkout bags. It's nice to get rid of the plastic  bag monster under the sink.

If it came down to it, I suppose using biobags would be a greener option — they do cost money, but they work fine.

Still, the detrimental effects of plastic in the ocean is far greater than the inconvenience. I'm not just talking about choking up turtles — I'm talking about the health of the ocean's ecosystem and in turn, the health of humans who are interconnected with that ecosystem.

Now, we could have considered a fee for plastic and paper checkout bags, which was effective in Washington DC. The bill in the state legislature seeking to place a 10-cent fee on plastic and paper checkout bags stalled this session, though it had the backing of both retailers and environmental groups like the Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club Hawaii.

But really, we can live without plastic (and paper) checkout bags. Just bring your own bag.

Make Earth Day every day

April 23rd, 2012
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This photo may look kind of artsy in black and white, but it shows typical takeout lunch waste, which includes single-use Styrofoam cups and clamshells and plastic bags (and probably plastic utensils), which take hundreds of years to break down. Our goal should be to reduce this kind of waste by opting out of the bag, bringing your own cup and utensils and choosing alternatives to Styrofoam. Photo taken at Restaurant Row by Nina Wu.

Here's the typical weekday takeout lunch waste in a trash can at Restaurant Row, which includes single-use Styrofoam cups and clamshells and plastic bags (and plastic utensils). Lunch probably took about 30 minutes, but these will take 100s of years to break down. Surely we can reduce this with a few simple lifestyle changes. Photo by Nina Wu.

Here are 7 more personal lifestyle changes you can take to make Earth Day every day.

1. >> Plant native. Go for native plants in your front or backyard. Contrary to what most people may think, native plants are not tropical plants like birds of paradise, ginger or heliconia. There are plenty of native plants to choose from, whether pohuehue or pohinahina for ground cover, the fragrant na‘u (gardenia) or several kinds of kokio (native hibiscus) to add color to your landscape. Naupaka also makes a nice hedge. Hui Ku Maoli Ola sells native plants at various events and Home Depot, which is a good place to get started. Visit their online catalog for a list.

2. >> BYOU. Bring your own utensils. This is one of my own personal goals because I usually buy lunch on work weekdays and oftentimes end up with the single-use plastic forks, knives and spoons that they give you for takeout. You can either bring your own silverware from home and wash it, or buy a cool, portable bamboo set to reuse.

3. >> Compost. Whether it's a worm compost, pile compost or bokashi bucket, you would be doing the earth a favor by letting food waste break back down into what nature intended — soil. You'll also be doing your garden a favor. To learn more about the bokashi bucket, visit eachoneteachonefarms.com/bokashi.

4. >> Avoid Styrofoam. Sunetric recently launched a "no Styrofoam" campaign and is acknowledging restaurants like Duke's that do the same. Styrofoam, or Polystyrene foam, takes hundreds of years to break down, cannot be recycled and is toxic to marine life. Unfortunately, you will still see a lot of Styrofoam when you buy coffee or takeout lunch. Try to request an alternative if possible or patronize places that opt not to use Styrofoam.

5. >> Recycle bottle caps. While we can throw plastic water bottles and plastic soft drink bottles into the blue bin for recycling, or redeem them for 5-cents each, there's no money for plastic caps. Yet they, too, can be recycled. Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii (B.E.A.C.H.) is collecting plastic caps and lids from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 5, at Ahuimanu Elementary School, 47-470 Hui Aeko Place in Kaneohe and from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Kaimuki Middle School, 631 18th Ave. on Saturday, May 12. Visit the non-profit's website to learn more about which caps and lids can be recycled.

6.>> Clean green. Choose biodegradable, plant-based cleansers and detergents to wash your dishes, toilet and bathtub with. Many of these alternatives (which don't include harsh chemicals like chlorine or ammonia) are now available — brands include Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyers, Ecover and Method. My favorite dishwashing liquid is Eco's Ultra Dishmate, pear, though I also use Ecover sometimes. This link from livstrong.com lists the top 10 natural cleaning brands. Look for the Green Seal. You can also make your own cleansers at home using baking soda, vinegar and water.

7.>> Buy recycled products. As a consumer, choose recycled products, whether it be post-consumer recycled paper towels (available at Costco, by the way) or office paper. You can also buy gently used items instead of brand-new products at your local garage sale, places like Reuse Hawaii (lumber, hardware and construction materials) and on craigslist.org.