Archive for the ‘Lifestyle’ Category

Turning a new leaf

January 30th, 2015


Dear Green Leaf readers:

First of all, a big mahalo and shout-out to those of you who have been reading the column and blog, which turns four years old in February. I thank you for following along. I'm always open to your comments and suggestions – and I welcome more interaction with you, whether you agree or disagree with me.

If you have any ideas for this column, I invite you to email me You can also find me on Twitter as @ecotraveler and Facebook.

The first blog post, dated Feb. 25, 2011, was about "the plastic dilemma." Well, guess what?  We still have that plastic dilemma, only a much larger one (an estimated 270,000 tons of plastic in the ocean, to be more specific). It's funny, because the exact same dilemmas we had then are the same that we have now — without plastic bags, how do we line our wastebaskets or pick up dog poop? Back then, only Maui and Kauai had the plastic checkout bag bans in place. Then Hawaii island. Come July, Oahu's plastic bag checkout ban will go into effect, as well.

Wow, we've come a long way.

In four years, the number of homes with solar photovoltaic systems on their rooftop went from less than 1 percent to 11 percent. We have the largest number of homes with solar PV per capita than any other state in the U.S. This makes sense, given that our electricity rates are triple the average in the nation, combined with the federal and state tax credits available and lower cost of systems. But we've got a long road ahead towards reaching our Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.

The blog has covered everything from plastic debris to recycling, climate change, invasive species, Hawaiian monk seals ( of course!), composting, bicycle-friendly initiatives, solar power (and the struggle to have solar power in Hawaii). All of these are still relevant, but have made it to the forefront because they affect all of us.

What else would you like to see? Have any suggestions?

On a personal level, since starting this blog, we took the big step of having a solar PV system installed on our home in 2012 (see post: "Time to go solar"). I'm grateful we were able to, considering how difficult that path has been for families that have been trying to in the last year. Since starting The Green Leaf, I also became a mom to an adorable, little boy, now age 4. In case you haven't noticed, I have a thing for Hawaiian monk seals, our official state mammal and a critically endangered species.



So let's just start with this: I am not perfect, nor am I "greener than thou." I'm just someone who cares about the paradise we live in, and someone who believes in trying to make the Earth a better place, ideal as that may seem. Through The Green Leaf, I hope to educate, inform and inspire.

Where did I get that idealism? In all honesty, I think it came from my time as an undergraduate at the University of California at Davis, one of the greenest college campuses in the U.S. I rode my bike everywhere on that campus, alongside professors and recycling was part of the lifestyle. Later, I rode my bike around the urban jungle surrounding the University of California at Berkeley while going to journalism school (and still have that bike, which was good for hills).   I did not grow up in a hippie, granola family, though we were always frugal and conscious about waste. I moved to Hawaii because of a love for hula, which is also about connecting with and having a deep respect for nature.

Let's just get the following "non-green confessions" out of the way:

>> I used disposable diapers. Yes, for three years. But I also came back to work full-time at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser after three months of maternity leave, and my son was at daycare. I don't know of many daycares in Hawaii that would accept reusable diapers. So yes, guilty! But we're done with that, now. We've been fully potty-trained for a year now.

>> I forget to bring my own fork — a lot. I do have one of those bamboo forks (and actually, you can just take one from your kitchen drawer at home around with you). When I forget, I save my plastic forks and reuse them. One of my New Year's resolutions is not to forget as often.

>> I drive an SUV. Yes. a Honda CRV. Bought it when my son was born after driving a compact Toyota Corolla for more than 15 years. Pretty much all my life, I drove small, compact cars. I was on the verge of buying a pre-used Toyota Prius, but went to plan B when the seller decided she didn't want to sell after all. My family (my mother, most of all) insisted that I would need a bigger car to tote around a baby, with the carseat, stroller, and everything else that comes with a child. I fell for it. I have to admit, it has at times come in handy (for the in-laws, baby, dog and all) and it is supposed to be one of the more fuel-efficient SUVs. But lately, I've also been feeling the bulk of it, and I'm on the market for a hybrid or electric vehicle.

Green gift guide

December 8th, 2014

Foundwood cutting boards are handmade locally from reclaimed woods by Jen Homcy in the backyard of her Haleiwa home. Star-Advertiser photo.

Foundwood cutting boards are handmade locally from reclaimed woods by Jen Homcy in the backyard of her Haleiwa home. Star-Advertiser photo.

It's that time of year again. Time for gift-giving, which results in the busiest shopping season of the year. It's also a time of high consumption and too-much-stuff-we-don't-really-need-itis. The volume of household waste in the United States generally increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

Instead of participating in the Black Friday frenzy (thank goodness, it's over), think of how you can 1) reduce packaging 2) reduce shipping by buying local or 3) give a gift that supports the earth or the concept of reusing and recycling. The Center for a New American Dream also offers tips on how to simplify the holidays. Or check out these 12 tips from the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation.

Below is a list of eco-friendly, Hawaii gift ideas for your loved ones this holiday season.


When searching for a one-of-a-kind item, look no farther than an heirloom cutting or serving board from Foundwood, a small woodworking shop created by Haleiwa resident Jen Homcy. Each of the beautiful boards is unique in shape and grain, personally shaped by Homcy, who carries on the legacy of her late father through the business. All are made exclusively from salvaged woods in Hawaii, including mango, monkeypod, koa and milo. What struck me about them is their organic, natural forms, which follow the flow of the grain, highlighting the raw beauty of the wood. These boards are smooth and very solid (you can tell by the weight when you hold them). Choose from a small, heart-shaped board made from monkeypod or an oblong rectangle made from beautiful, dark milo wood. Prices range from about $46 to $95. Find Homcy’s boards at the Kailua Town Farmers Market (she’s there on the first and third Sundays, 8:30 a.m. to noon), Nohea Gallery at Ward Warehouse and Owens & Co. in Chinatown. You can also find her at


Gifts of candies, cookies and food are always nice, but how about a CSA? A Community Supported Agriculture subscription that will deliver locally grown produce on a monthly basis. There are several to choose from in Hawaii, now — from Honolulu Farms to MA‘O Farms, Just Add Water, Oahu Fresh and Waihuena Farm on the North Shore, all offer CSAs.


Craft fairs abound during this time of year in Hawaii and are a great place to support local artisans and artists. More specifically, The Green House's holiday gift extragavanza from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 13 this year offers plenty of handmade goods that are also green, including natural cleaning products, decoupaged bottles, herbal vinegars, bath salts from herbs harvested from the garden and hard-to-find plants. Visit to find directions. Call 524-8427 for more information.


The Sierra Club's Adopt a Wild Animal program gives you the opportunity to help some of America's most vulnerable wildlife while offering a cuddly gift to a family member. Choose from a plush Polar Bear, Harbor Seal, Sea Turtle, Black Bear, Grey Wolf,  Mountain Lion or more. New this year are a Sea Otter and Manatee. For $39, you get a plush animal, sticker, plus booklet that offers information about the animal, an adoption certificate, fun animal facts, map of American wildlife and letter of recognition. For $79, you also get an 1892-style Sierra Club knapsack. For $129, you get a plush puppet and the rest. Shipping is free. Visit to learn more.


but offers you the satisfaction of knowing you are helping America's vulnerable wildlife long after the gift has been opened, according to the Sierra Club.


The Marine Mammal Center, which  just opened the new monk seal hospital in Kona, also offers an amazingly diverse selection of gifts for him, for her and for kids online. You can adopt a seal or purchase books, cards, DVDs, jewelry, handcrafted soaps and organic T-shirts to support their work. The center is based in Sausalito, Calif., north of San Francisco.


The Nature Conservancy in Hawaii, unfortunately, no longer offers logo items online, but it does offer you the opportunity to give a "gift of nature" this holiday season. You can adopt an acre on someone's behalf, make a tribute gift, give the gift of membership (specifically for Hawaii) ranging from a minimum of $25 to $500 or more, with a special e-card sent to the recipient. Visit


Wrap your gift in a reusable shopping bag or tote which itself is a gift — and can be used throughout the year. It may come in handy when Honolulu's new law banning single-use takeout plastic bags goes into effect in July 2015. Some brands with beautiful designs include envirosax, ecolicious (based in Hawaii) and chicobags.

This canvas tote from Ecolicious Hawaii comes with an eco-friendly saying. The mission of Ecolicious is to reduce the use of plastic bags in Hawaii. Photo from

This canvas tote from Ecolicious Hawaii comes with an eco-friendly saying. The mission of Ecolicious is to reduce the use of plastic bags in Hawaii. Photo from

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.

The BYOB movement

January 13th, 2014


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

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

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

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.


"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 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

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 (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 for more info. Don't forget to bring a reusable water bottle!

Rain Garden Manual is out

April 17th, 2013


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

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

Plant a koa tree as a gift that will continue growing and giving. Visit 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

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

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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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