Archive for the ‘Plastic’ 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.

Anti-plastic fashion show

July 23rd, 2015

Demonstrators from Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Surfrider Foundation demonstrated against the thicker plastic bags that Wal-Mart is handing out at noon Thursday. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.

Volunteers from Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Surfrider Foundation demonstrated against the thicker plastic bags that Wal-Mart is handing out with a fashion show at noon Thursday. Photos by Cindy Ellen Russell.

More than a dozen demonstrators staged a plastic bag protest in front of Wal-Mart on Keeaumoku Street at noon today. Donning self-made creations constructed from thick, plastic bags (the ones they were protesting), the demonstrators from Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Surfrider Foundation put on an impromptu, sidewalk fashion show.

The purpose was to raise awareness over the harm that stores like Wal-Mart create when handing out a thicker version of plastic bags to customers at checkout which, they say, defies the spirit of the plastic bag ban that went into effect on Oahu July 1.

"What we're trying to do is shine a light on the fact that a lot of our local retailers are still skirting the law when it comes to the plastic bag ban," said Sustainable Coastlines director Kahi Pacarro, donning a plastic bag tie.

The Honolulu version of the law contains a loophole which allows retailers to give customers reusable bags, which is defined as a "bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse." It can be made of cloth or other washable fabric or a "durable material suitable for reuse," which includes plastic that is at least 2.25 mils thick.

Wal-Mart is not the only one handing out the thicker plastic bags, which angered Anna Sabino and prompted her to start a petition earlier this month. Longs Drugs, Times Supermarket, City Mill, Don Quijote, Tamura's, Thinker Toys and Chevron are culprits, too. However, Wal-Mart actually goes so far as to write the word "Sustainable" on its thicker, plastic bags, which is greenwashing at its finest.

While twirling and marching down the sidewalk, the demonstrators, which included kids dressed in plastic bag frocks, women in frilly, plastic skirts and a fully-decked-out plastic bag monster man, held signs to educate consumers about the harm that plastic bags cause.

They also handed out free, reusable canvas bags — part of a Bag A New Friend campaign that Sustainable Coastlines is running. Here's how it works: When you go shopping, bring an extra bag or bags to give to others that may have forgotten theirs or others that don't have any. Post it to social media with #BagANewFriend.

Demonstrators were also giving out their ideal, reusable bags in front of Wal-Mart on Keeaumoku Street on Thursday, part of Sustainable Coastline Hawaii's #BagANewFriend campaign.

Demonstrators were also giving out reusable bags in front of Wal-Mart on Keeaumoku Street on Thursday, part of Sustainable Coastline Hawaii's #BagANewFriend campaign.

The protestors' signs said:

>> "10 percent of the plastic produced every year worldwide winds up in the ocean." — United Nations Environment Programme.

>> "The average American family takes home 1,500 plastic bags a year." — Natural Resources Defense Council.

>> "About 2 million plastic  bags are used every minute around the world." — Earth Policy Institute

While the thicker version of these plastic bags are available, they do as much harm to the environment as the thinner versions. They end up littering beaches and waterways, entering the ocean ecosystem and take even longer to break down. They may be reused a few more times than the thinner version, but are generally used only once.

Of the four isles (Kauai, Maui, Oahu and Hawaii island), only Oahu offers this loophole. Oahu's plastic bag ban also allows for compostable bags, even though there is no commercial composting facility on the isle.

The whole idea is really to reduce the amount of plastic.

The "plastic bag monster" participated in a demonstration fashion show in front of Wal-Mart Keeaumoku on Thursday.

The "plastic bag monster" participated in a demonstration in front of Wal-Mart Keeaumoku on Thursday. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.

The message of the demonstration was lost on Rose Pristow of Honolulu, who was sitting nearby. When she shops Wal-Mart, she takes the plastic bag for her purchases, which she had tucked into a reusable bag from Whole Foods Market. She takes the plastic bags to line her garbage cans at home, and does not see an issue with littering as long as she makes sure they go into the trash can.

"I'm for the environment, but I didn't understand what was going on," she said.

She was surprised to learn that some of the plastic bags end up at the beach.

Another shopper, Susan (declined to give last name), said she's been bringing her own bags since the ban went into place. On Thursday, she ended up buying more than she initially planned at Wal-Mart, so she used a few cardboard boxes to corral her purchases in the shopping cart, Costco-style. She keeps a bag full of other reusable bags ready in her car.

The majority of shoppers exiting Wal-Mart appear to take the thicker, plastic bags for their purchases, which are free, although a reusable bag is also available by the checkout stand for 50-cents. Many other retail stores, such as Safeway, are using paper bags while offering reusable bags for sale. Foodland offers customers who bring their own bags 5-cents credit per bag or Hawaiian Airlines miles. Some retailers, like Ross, will begin charging a fee for paper bags with handles, starting August.

Related video:

Are you ready?

June 24th, 2015

Global Village in Kailua has always offered a tote bag program. If you purchase more than $40 this adorable tote is free, or $5 on its own. Photo by Nina Wu.

Global Village, an apparel and gifts boutique in Kailua, offers a reusable tote bag program. If you purchase more than $40 this adorable tote is free and good for special discounts at the store on Tuesdays. Or buy it for $5. Global Village has been plastic bag-free since 2007, well before the upcoming July 1 bag ban. Photo by Nina Wu.

Honolulu's plastic carryout bag ban goes into effect on Wednesday, July 1. Similar bans have already been in place on Kauai, Maui and Hawaii island. Are you ready?

Rather than pay an extra dime for compostable bags, our Big Q poll shows most people would opt to bring their own recyclable bag. While Oahu's retail stores and supermarkets are deciding what to offer as an alternative, whether it be a compostable bag, paper bag or thicker, reusable plastic bag, consumers can do their part. Many stores, including Whole Foods Market, will give you 10-cents (Target offer 5-cents) credit for each bag you bring, and hopefully, will continue to do so after the ban.

Foodland offers customers either 5-cents credit or Hawaiian Airlines miles (3 miles per bag you bring in). Foodland is also offering a "Reuse and Win! Sweepstakes." Customers who commit to bringing in reusable bags from July 1 to Aug. 4 will be entered to win weekly prizes and a $500 Foodland gift card or $500 Hawaiian Airlines gift card.

Bringing your own bag is simple and easy. Enough excuses, already. I've heard them all. You can pick up dog poop with other bags. You won't get paper cuts from paper bags if you bring your own reusable bag. Many reusable bags are given away for free, but many are also affordable, costing as little as 99-cents or $1.99 for a quality canvas tote. Check out Nadine Kam's story for more fashionable options.

Here are some tips on BYOB (bringing your own bags)

>> KEEP THEM HANDY. For trips to the grocery store, I find that the best place to keep the bags is in the car — I keep at least a dozen in there at all times (after unloading groceries, they stay by the front door so I remember to take them back out on the way to the car). If I walk into the store and forget, then I let the clerk know I'll be right back, go to the car and get them. Consider it a short walk to get exercise. Smaller ChicoBags, EnviroSax or Baggu are also handy in a purse or another bag in case you need an extra one.

>> CHOOSE THE RIGHT ONES. After bringing your own bags for awhile, you start to figure out which ones work best for groceries versus other items. For groceries, a large, square-bottomed and insulated bag works best. This is ideal if you need to buy half-cartons of milk, soymilk, cheese, or juice or wine plus meat and other items that need to remain cold. Canvas bags work best for lighter-weight items like fruits, vegetables, cereal, bread, crackers, etc. For retail stores, go with a fashionable, lightweight fabric tote that can easily fit in your purse. Fabrics like cotton and canvas are ideal because you can throw them in the washing machine when necessary. So are the ChicoBags, EnviroSax and Baggu, which are made of nylon and also machine-washable.

>> SAY NO WHEN YOU CAN. Sometimes you really don't need a bag. Many retail purchases — a pack of batteries, a candy bar or even a dress — will fit right in your purse. I bought an adorable dress at Global Village, for instance, kept the receipt and put it straight into my backpack. The money that Global Village saves, according to owner Debbie Ah Chick, goes to two non-profits in the community. Make sure to get a receipt and keep it carefully as proof of your purchase before walking out of the store. At Ross, I oftentimes find a great deal on baskets to help organize the mess at home. The basket doubles as a container for purchases on the way out. Buying a sandwich for lunch? Skip the bag. Just take the sandwich wrapped in paper and go.


Target in Kailua made a smart move by offering neither paper nor plastic when it opened in February. Photos by Nina Wu.



The Liquor Collection at Ward Warehouse reminds patrons of the plastic bag ban going into effect July 1.

Related Video:

Jack Johnson


April 13th, 2015


Takeout waste at Restaurant Row (Waterfront Plaza), 500 Ala Moana Blvd. Photos by Nina Wu.

Do you BYOC?

Bring your own container?

For those of us that love to eat out, or get takeout, yet are environmentally conscious of all the waste it creates, it's a dilemma.

A study by the Environmental Protection Agency estimated about a third of some 251 million tons of municipal solid waste in the U.S. can be attributed to food containers and packaging.

So I admit that I get takeout quite a bit — for lunch, Monday through Friday. I've aspired to bring my own, healthy and homemade lunch to work, but it just hasn't happened.

So what can we do about it?

For starters, I usually skip the plastic bag if possible. If I'm getting takeout and planning to eat right away, then I don't need the bag. I'm glad to see that some food vendors already do this — Pa‘ina Cafe, for instance, asks if you want a bag. Sandwiches can be wrapped in paper. Clamshells, another source of plastic and polystyrene waste — are self-contained, already, and don't require a bag.

So what about BYOC -  bringing your own container?


Takeout waste at the popular Eat The Street food truck rally.

I tried it at a few lunchwagons at Eat The Street last month, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. One vendor piled the chow mein noodle order into my glass container without much ado. Another vendor smiled, as she put her plate lunch offerings in the container, and thanked me. She thought it was a great idea.

The downside is that because I prefer glass containers to plastic, they tend to be heavy to carry around. The upside is that whatever you bring home is easy to reheat in the microwave.

Here’s the rub, though. It turns out that the state Department of Health does not allow restaurants to serve food in a customers’ owner container, based on its interpretation of Hawaii Administrative Rules 11-50-32(p)(1), which refers to a “take-home container returned to a food establishment.”

The law is confusing because it sounds as if the rule refers to a customer bringing a take-home container back to the restaurant as opposed to bringing tupperware from home.

However, the health department says it is okay for a customer to pack their own leftovers in a reusable container after a meal at a restaurant. I think I'm going to do that from now on.

It is also acceptable to bring your own cup for beverages. Starbucks, for example, will pour a latte into a customers’ own cup and give you a 10-cent discount every time you do. I'm already a regular BYOCer there — by the way, besides the steel reusable cups that Starbucks sells, I'm a fan of Hydroflasks, which really keep your iced lattes COLD.

Also, it's perfectly acceptable to BYOC (bring your own chopsticks) plus utensils. There are lovely eco-hashi chopsticks wrapped in beautiful fabric that you can take around with you, or bamboo utensils or camping gear. But if you don't want to go out and purchase anything, you can simply reach into your drawer and carry a pair of chopsticks, or a fork, or a spoon, around with you.

So who actually cares enough to do this? I’m thinking it’s a small minority, but found three other in my circle of acquaintances.

>> Amanda Corby Noguchi, wife of Chef Mark “Gooch” Noguchi and co-founder of Pili Group, brings her own pair of wooden chopsticks and a wooden spork (combination of spoon and fork) in her purse wherever she goes. She uses them both for herself and one-year-old daughter, Elee.

>> Publicist Lacy Matsumoto, owner of Urban Pacific Communications, has been bringing her own food containers to take leftovers home for about three years. When in a bind, she’ll opt for restaurants that use biodegradable containers. She swore off straws after seeing so many pieces of them strewn along the shoreline at a beach cleanup. “At the end of the day, I know I’ve reduced my waste in some way,” she said.

>> Microplastics artist Shannon McCarthy says it’s easy to BYOC. She makes most of her meals at home in a Mason jar, but will also bring one with her for takeout. She also carries a pair of chopsticks with her, as well as a multiple-use camping gear tool equipped with knife, fork and spoon. Mason jars work well for soups, salads, and beverages.

Target's bagless move

March 7th, 2015

Shoppers at Target Kailua's opening day, March 4, 2015. Photo by Dennis Oda.

Shoppers at Target Kailua's opening day, March 4, 2015. Photo by Dennis Oda.

Smart. Brilliant. À propos.

Target's move to offer customers no free bag at checkout at its Kahului, Maui and Kailua, Oahu stores on Wednesday was a logical step. On Maui, plastic checkout bags are banned. On Oahu, the plastic checkout ban goes into effect July 1. While the stores could have offered customers recyclable paper bags, the U.S.'s No. 2 discount chain opted to offer neither.

And you know what?

It's really no big deal. Costco shoppers already check out without bags. Why couldn't they do it at Target, another big-box retailer, as well?

For those of us who've already been bringing our own bags to shop for years, the response is – great! No big adjustment.

The Minneapolis-based retailer also offers customers 5-cents credit for each bag you bring in. That's better than Safeway next door, which offers nothing, although I do like their self checkout option. Whole Foods Market Kailua a block away offers 10-cents credit (and the checkout cashiers always say "thanks!").

Are there going to be some customers griping, while juggling loose items all the way to the car? Maybe.

The ubiquitous plastic checkout bags, which have been given away for free, are really not. There's an additional cost built into the overhead by businesses and there's an environmental cost that should be calculated as well. The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store, according to reuse; the U.S. goes through about 100 billion single-use plastic bags at a cost of $4 billion to retailers a year. Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.

Maybe it's time we stopped taking this convenience for granted.

And maybe big-box retailers like Target can play a role in this cultural shift. I did think it was smart for the retailer to offer a 99-cent reusable bag at checkout that customers could purchase —you have to wonder how many Target sold when people discovered they wouldn't be provided bags (Target gave them away for free on the first day).

Target has been offering the 5-cents credit for reusable bags since 2009, according to this USA Today article. Interestingly enough, the same article says that CVS (owner of Long's Drugs) offers participating customers $1 cash bonuses every four times they buy something but don't request plastic bags. I'm not sure whether this program is in effect at our local Long's Drugs. Cashiers there don't promote it.

By the way, in case you don't know, Honolulu's July 1 plastic bag ban  will not allow businesses to provide plastic checkout bags, but will allow for reusable bags, compostable plastic bags and recyclable paper bags. There's still debate about how environmentally friendly compostable plastic bags really are. And paper, even recyclable, isn't necessarily better than plastic.

The ban will not cover bags for loose items like fruits, vegetables, frozen foods, takeout bags from fast food restaurants and lunch wagons, or newspaper bags. has more details and a full list.

What do you think? Was it a good move for Target to go bagless?

Murals at the entrance of Target in Kailua  by local artist Leah Kilpatrick Rigg on Monday, January 26, 2015. Photo by Krystle Marcellus.

Murals at the entrance of Target in Kailua by local artist Leah Kilpatrick Rigg on Monday, January 26, 2015. Photo by Krystle Marcellus.

Q&A, Anissa Gunther, Kailua Sailboards

February 6th, 2015


Q&A with Anissa Gunther, manager, Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks

Founded in 1982, Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks offers kayak, stand-up paddle and snorkel gear rentals while also offering adventure tours out to the Mokuluas.

But the watersports company also believes in stewardship of the natural environment and education. Last year, the company transformed the Malama Lounge, where visitors go to watch a safety video, into the Kailua Bay Education Center, offering interactive displays about plastic pollution's impact on the ocean, as well as information on Hawaii's endangered birds and Hawaiian monk seals.

They learn that eight out of the top 10 items found during last year's International Coastal Cleanup Day were plastics related to eating and drinking. While stand-up paddling and kayaking with pet pooches has become an increasingly common sight in Kailua, dogs are not allowed at Flat Island or the Mokuluas, all protected wildlife bird sanctuaries.

Two years ago, the business voluntarily stopped offering customers plastic checkout bags at its surf shop, offering paper or reusable bags instead. Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks is also certified by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association.

Gunther, 39, a kayaker, volleyball player and mother, also organizes habitat restoration trips to the Mokuluas in partnership with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. A small group of volunteers helps restore the islets by removing invasive species from January through March. Kailua Sailboards provides kayaks and  equipment to get out there, plus lunch, and helps coordinate the volunteers. The partnership is in its fourth year. If interested, email

Q: How did you become interested in conservation?

A: I grew up on the East Coast of the U.S. mainland and became passionate about the ocean due to many summers spent at North Carolina beaches. When I was 15 years old, I talked my parents into taking me to the 1990 Earth Day celebration (I believe it was the 20 year anniversary) held on the steps of the Capitol in Washington D.C. The message to protect our planet really struck me and led me to earn a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Marine Sciences from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. I was unsure of what field to pursue, so I took off on a world trip to think about it. I discovered a new passion in travel and adventure eco tourism, which eventually landed me in Hawaii to manage this amazing water sports shop.

Q: Of all that you do in educating others about Hawaii's natural habitat, what has been the most rewarding?

A:  It's too hard to choose which effort is most rewarding. Witnessing a healthy seabird habitat that was once riddled with invasive plants is a great reward. Hauling hundreds of pounds of plastic off of the beach is rewarding and so is winning the Ultimate Sand Sifter Challenge. Knowing that the KSK team puts its heart and soul into protecting Hawaii's natural resources is truly gratifying.

Q: What are the most unusual items your renters have carried back from a trek out to the ocean? (Renters are encouraged to pick up trash during their adventures. These are all put on display for educational purposes).

A: Renters and tour customers bring back all types of marine debris — shoes, tires, wrappers, bottles and fishing industry debris. Some of the most unusual items are free weights, bullet shells, part of a laundry basket and a power boat seat.

Q: Next you plan to add a coral reef and Hawaiian honu exhibit. What else is on your wish list?

A: Volunteers. Experts who can contribute advice, time and effort towards helping us to create effective and impactful exhibits.

Plastic pollution collected from Kailua Beach Park on display.

Plastic pollution collected from Kailua Beach Park on display.

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.

Year 2014 in eco-retrospective

December 26th, 2014


Illustration courtesy of Surfrider.

Illustration courtesy of Surfrider.

It was a year of highs, and a year of lows for the environment. There were several milestones, and there remain many unknowns for the upcoming year of 2015. Below is a summary of the markers for the year 2014, as I saw it.

1. Plastic overload. The year 2014 was the year of plastic, as has been the case in previous years. This year, the alarm is at an all-time high. A new study published in December by the scientific journal, PLOS ONE, reported that an estimated 270,000 tons of plastic (enough to fill more than 38,500 garbage trucks) is floating in the world's ocean, and that's only the plastic that's on the surface, not the ocean floor. Not only that, but the plastic breaks down into more than 5 trillion pieces. The impacts of all this plastic in our oceans as well as the food chain (including the fish and seafood we eat) are still unknown. Read the AP story posted Dec. 13, 2014 at

2. Plastic-bag free. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed Bill 38 in September, officially banning retailers from distributing plastic carryout bags, including biodegradable bags. But the law doesn't go into effect until July 1, 2015. With that in place, Oahu joins Maui, Kauai and the Big Island in banning plastic bags at checkout. Apparently, the reaction among our readers was to start hoarding plastic bags (49 percent of our readers, based on our Big Q poll). In September, California was the first to implement a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores.

3. Monk seal hospital. Ke Kai Ola, the new Hawaiian monk seal hospital in Kona, held its grand opening and blessing on Sept. 2. The Marine Mammal Center's $3.2 million facility is dedicated to giving sick and injured Hawaiian monk seals a second chance. Four young, malnourished monk seals, Kulia, Ikaika, Hala‘i and Maka‘ala, were admitted on July 9 after being rescued from the northwestern Hawaiian islands.

Monk seal pup RF58 was found dead due to blunt force injuries, as a necropsy later revealed. She was one of two pups that had just survived a dog attack in July. Photo by Jamie Thompton/NOAA.

Monk seal pup RF58 was found dead due to blunt force injuries, as a necropsy later revealed. She was one of two pups that had just survived a dog attack in July. Photo by Jamie Thompton/NOAA.

4. Monk seal death. This year also marked a sad occurrence, with the suspicious death of a monk seal pup on the north shore of Kauai in November. Monk seal pup RF58 died from apparent blunt force trauma to the head. She was only about 4 to 5 months old, the daughter of Rocky, or RH58. An initial reward offer of $5,000 doubled to $10,000. In an unprecedented move, The Garden Island newspaper also decided to offer a $10,000 reward.

5. Expanded protection. President Barack Obama in September, through presidential proclamation, extended the protection zone around the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument by about 50 nautical miles. It was heralded as a victory by many conservation organizations in Hawaii who testified in favor of it.

6. HECO roller coaster. The Hawaii Electric Cos., the utility for the islands of Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, touched a major public nerve when its Aug. 26 plan was received by the Public Utilties Commission, proposing that the basic connection fees for customers in Honolulu be raised to a minimum of $55. On top of that, HECO attempted to drive a wedge between solar and non-solar customers, blamed its aging grid problems on solar PV customers and asked that new solar customers pay additional fees to connect. This came at a time when more than 3,500 solar PV customers were still waiting, from 9 months to a year, to get connected. Even DBEDT criticized the utility for putting its own profits above public interest while continuing to adhere to an outdated business model. Then in December HEI announced Florida-based NextEra would acquire the company for $4.3 billion, pending approval by the PUC. It's unknown how NextEra will treat individual solar PV customers. Let's just hope that battery storage systems become more affordable in coming years so that customers who want to get solar PV can do so, without worrying about the utility's grid.

7. Solar. It was not a good year for the solar industry in Hawaii. As reported in the Star-Advertiser business section, roof solar permits issued in Honolulu fell by 50 percent. Only 520 permits were issued by the city last month compared to 1,040 in November 2013 despite the availability of both state and federal tax credits (the federal tax credit is set to expire Dec. 31, 2016). Looking at the overall picture, though, the Hawaii State Energy Office noted that distributed renewable energy system installations increased significantly from 12,560 in 2012 to 18,316  in 2013. At the end of the year, the cumulative number of systems statewide totaled 40,717 with a total capacity of 253.5 Megawatt (MW). The state also ranked first in energy performance contracting in the nation with an investment of $235.74 per capita, and earned a third, consecutive Race to the Top award from the Energy Services Coalition in 2014.

8. Bronze for bikes. Honolulu earned its first bronze as a bicycle-friendly city from the League of American Bicyclists. Honolulu is the first municipality in Hawaii to achieve the bronze. Bicycle activists say Honolulu made strides in five areas, including engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation. They also laud the new King St. Cycle Track as a big step forward.

9.  Invasive species. From downed albizia trees on the Big Island to little fire ants and coconut rhinoceros beetles, the year 2014 was a year to monitor potentially destructive invasive species. The state department of agriculture does the best that it can on a meager budget. The albizia trees got plenty of attention during tropical storm Iselle, when they fell like a row of matchsticks and downed power lines. The little fire ants made their way to Mililani Mauka. The latest coconut rhino beetle, previously discovered around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam,  was found in a trap at Kakaako Waterfront Park. Add to the list, a coconut crab in Salt Lake, and an emu on the Big Island.

10. Electric Vehicles. The number of people driving electric vehicles in Hawaii continues to grow. As of October 2014, DBEDT estimated the number of passenger electric vehicles in the state was 3,026, up 54.5 percent, from 1,068 from the same month a year ago. More charging stations are also popping up around the isles. Volta just announced two free charging stations outside of Whole Foods Market in Kahului, Maui.

Hoarding plastic bags

October 1st, 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.

So, now it's official.

Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell signed Bill 38 into law on Thursday, Sept. 25, which would ban retailers from distributing plastic carryout bags — including biodegradable  bags — starting July 1, 2015.

Oahu follows Maui, Kauai and the Big Island in banning plastic  bags at checkout. But California, not Hawaii, became the first state to ban plastic bags yesterday.

In the first version of the bill, biodegradable bags would have been exempted, until environmentalists pointed out they can be just as damaging in the ocean. Compostable bags that meet the standards of ASTM International are allowed.

The bag ban, though not perfect, is great news for our environment. It's going to be an adjustment for folks who take plastic bags for granted.

In our recent Big Q poll,  the majority of readers (346) said they plan to start hoarding plastic takeout bags in response to the news. I imagine some began hoarding as soon as they heard Honolulu was considering a ban.

How will you prepare for Oahu’s plastic-bag ban at stores, to be effective July 1?

  • B. Start hoarding plastic bags (49%, 346 Votes)
  • A. Start using recyclable bags (33%, 231 Votes)
  • C. Already stopped using plastic (18%, 123 Votes) 

It cracks me up because I know people like that — people like my mom, who believe if something's free, then take it. At the checkout at Marukai, I remember watching an elderly Japanese lady at a packing table by the exit, meticulously wrapping each purchase, big and small, in a separate plastic bag.

Why would you hoard plastic bags? So you can have a lifetime supply without ever having to purchase any plastic bags for your wastebaskets?

On the other hand, too many plastic bags do come with a cost – an overhead cost that businesses pass on to consumers for the convenience and a high environmental cost to this beautiful paradise we live in. On average, one shopper uses 500 bags in one year. Plastic bags are choking up our waterways, breaking into chemical-laden pieces in our oceans. They offer short-term convenience, but long-term consequences. Burning them at H-power is not the answer (not for the health of the air we breathe in).

Reducing them is part of the solution. That's what this law will do.

I've been bringing my own bags to the store for several years now, and believe me, life is still fine. Our home isn't completely plastic bag-free yet, due to visitors and other household members who sometimes bring them in. But there's just a small cluster, (which yes, I line my wastebaskets with), compared to a large monster ball beneath the kitchen sink. You start to discover that you don't need so many, certainly not that huge monster ball amount.

Here are some ideas on how we can use fewer plastic bags:

>> Consolidate. So maybe we don't need so many small, plastic bags. On trash day, dump the contents of your wastebasket into the larger trash bag before taking it out. Reduce the number of bags you use. When you have mostly dry waste, this isn't a big deal. Wet waste is tougher.

>> Compost. You can reduce trash by composting food waste - vegetable peelings, apple cores, leftover pasta and bread, and put it back into your garden.

>> Reuse. Think of the other plastic bags that we get which are still available. Get creative. Bread bags, newspaper bags, sack of potato bags.  Bread bags and newspaper bags work just fine for picking up dog poop, another common complaint about the ban of plastic grocery bags.

>> Recycle. Are there things that you throw out in the trash which can actually be recycled? Remember, No. 1 and 2 plastics go in the blue bin. That includes pretty much all shampoo bottles, laundry detergent bottles, etc., as well as glass jelly  jars, newspapers, corrugated cardboard pizza boxes, etc.

>> BYOB. Bring your own bags to the store - keep a dozen in your car, and at least one or two of the Chicobag, Envirosax or Baggu kind (that fold up small) in your purse or backpack. I like the large, square-bottomed and insulated ones I got for supporting PBS Hawaii. I also love the ones from Trader Joe's. Or, try the Costco method and keep an empty cardboard box in the car. I'm hoping people will be encouraged to bring their own bags instead of collecting piles of paper bags at home.

And when you have no choice but to use a bag for your wastebasket, there are alternatives out there like Biobags, which are compostable. Just don't let them get into the ocean.

Plastic bag monster sculpture created by the Shanghai chapter of Jane Goodall Institute's Roots & Shoots. From

Plastic bag monster sculpture created by the Shanghai chapter of Jane Goodall Institute's Roots & Shoots. From

Marine debris art

July 31st, 2014

Honolulu artist Shannon McCarthy painted this monk seal ocean scene on five reclaimed wood panels and a border made out of invasive strawberry guava wood. The panels will be on display at the Jack Johnson concerts Aug. 1 and 2. Photo courtesy Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.

Honolulu artist Shannon McCarthy created this monk seal ocean scene mosiac on five reclaimed wood panels bordered by invasive strawberry guava. The mosaic will be on display at the Jack Johnson concerts Aug. 1 and 2 at Waikiki Shell. Photo courtesy Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.


So, what do you do with all of that plastic debris — small pieces of broken-down plastics, or microplastics — cleaned from the beach?

For Honolulu artist and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii volunteer, Shannon McCarthy, the answer is, get creative and make art.

She created a Hawaiian monk seal ocean scene (two adult monk seals, one pup) on the North Shore on five wooden panels constructed out of reclaimed wood with a border of invasive strawberry guava wood. The mosaic was first unveiled at a beach cleanup at Point Panic (Kakaako) in June, then went on display at Honolulu Hale. It will be up at the Jack Johnson concert at Waikiki Shell Aug. 1 and 2. 

The microplastics were collected using rudimentary sand sifters, then separated and glued to the panels. Students from Kainalu Elementary, St. John Vianney, St. Louis School,  St. Anthony, Kahaluu Elementary and members of Girl Scouts Troop 840 all pitched in on the artwork, as well as helped with beach cleanups over the past three months, collecting the marine debris.

"The mosaics are inspired by the need to spread awareness of plastics and marine debris in all the oceans," said McCarthy, "how to reduce or eliminate our daily impact on it, and how drastically beautiful Hawaii and its inhabitants are being affected by this pollution."

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii's first Ultimate Sand Sifter Challenge, meanwhile, is still on. The contest encourages Oahu residents to create and build sand sifters to efficiently remove the microplastics from the sand on the beach.

"The hope is that this mural will directly inspire people to pay attention to the overwhelming amount of marine debris affecting our coastlines," said SCH executive director Kahi Pacarro. "Our Sand Sifter Challenge is meant to foster out-of-the-box thinking, entrepreneurial spirit and teamwork to tackle a growing problem that, if not addressed, will lead to an unsustainable future for Hawaii's coastlines."

The sand sifters must be human powered and built for under $300. The winning team wins a $2,500 cash prize plus an additional $2,500 to replicate five sand sifters. Submissions for the contest are due Sept. 26. Visit to learn more.