Still deep in the post-holiday blues (although today's sunshine is making them slightly more bearable!), what better time to write about my trip to Hawai'i from a No Us in the Wild perspective - eco conscious, plastic free and zero waste. I knew I wanted to write a blog just a couple of days after arriving out there, and I've been reflecting on the differences between attitudes towards the environment there and here since getting back to London.
We spent time in Maui and Kaua'i, so the below is based on my experiences with sustainability, plastic free living and eco friendly practices on those two islands. Let's go!
It's so easy to refill
The refillables - oh, the refillables! Not only were there water points to refill bottles when out and about (each beach park had a water fountain, the airports had water refill stations and the soda fountains at restaurants had free water for everyone), but it was a feast for my little eyes to find some form of product refill in almost every supermarket or general store we went into. From wholebean coffee to rice and popcorn, it was great to see these options somewhere other than a designated refill store - encouraging people to reuse and save plastic. My all time favourite was the kombucha on tap (I KNOW!) - this seemed to be everywhere, particularly in Maui, and you could take your own bottle or pitcher to fill up or use glass jars supplied. Dreamy! The one pictured here was Big Wave's watermelon kombucha - I don't think I'll ever get over how good it was (I honestly can't stop thinking about it).
Wild and loose veggies
FREEDOM! Fruit and vegetables just weren't swaddled in plastic like they are in the UK - in supermarkets and general stores, the vast majority of produce was sitting pretty on the shelves, naked as the day is long - plastic free and zero waste. There was still the odd bit of packaged produce, but it was pretty few and far between. I was also pleasantly reminded of the paper bags used as standard in US supermarkets (but almost everybody brought their own reusable bags. Bliss). Long live naked veg!
Buy local, support local
I could write for hours about the sense of community that we immediately noticed as visitors to the islands - it was part of what made Maui and Kaua'i so magical. A big part of this was the support for all things local - farmers markets featured seasonal avocados and papaya from someone's garden; popular eateries used the hot sauce made by the couple who live down the road; beachwear made from recycled or upcycled fabrics hung on the surf store shelves alongside Billabong and Ripcurl; and island-grown coffees were brewed in cafes rather than imported, well-known brands (which are also terrible in comparison - why would you want a Starbucks roast when you can have Kaua'i Coffee?!). Not only does this focus on local products reduce the carbon emissions of importing alternatives (the Hawaiian islands are Polynesia - that journey's no joke), but it keeps money in the local economy, respects seasonal production and shows pride in the creativity of the locals and the abundance of their own land.
Respect for nature
Building on the point above, this seemed second nature to most people. Maybe it's because people living on the islands spend so much time outdoors, meaning they are physically so much closer to nature (I won't pretend I'm not jealous of the seven year olds surfing like pros - I'll catch up with you one day!), or because that's just what we should all be like but have got lost somewhere along the way, but there is a fierce sense of the need to protect the natural environment. There are recycling bins everywhere (one for each type of material), and most 'disposables' are made from paper, wood, plant-based 'plastic' or are fully home compostable (we saw this with disposable cutlery, cups, straws, food wraps - almost everything).
One morning, we were at the beach and a giant sea turtle pulled itself onto the shore; another afternoon, an endangered Hawaiian monk seal came to rest on the sand. Both times, I waited for people to go and peer at them, touch them or get too close for a good photo, but everyone drew back from where they were swimming or sunbathing to give the animals space; the lifeguard at the second beach propped some surfboards a few feet away from the seal so people could make sure they didn't accidentally walk too close. I thought of other places I've been lucky enough to see wild animals up close, and the difference in behaviour of the people who were nearby.
There's also a huge focus on the environmental damage of conventional sunscreen - most beaches had hand-painted signs (many made by children) warning people not to go in the water if their sunscreen contained one of a list of toxic ingredients; reef-safe sunscreen (similar to our very own Shade!) was sold as standard in aluminium or wooden tubs; and there is talk of banning the sale of reef-toxic sunscreen across the islands. This is nothing new, either - while a lot of us are only now learning about how damaging chemicals can be to sealife and discovering alternatives, there has been local reef-safe sunscreen available in Hawai'i for years.
Love your environment and your community
Of course, nowhere is perfect. I've focused on the amazing things I saw, mainly because they far outweighed the odd bit of rubbish I'd see on the beach or the Snapple in the supermarket advertising that it was 'NOW IN A PLASTIC BOTTLE!' (eyeroll). But, I've got to say that in many ways it feels like we are lightyears behind back here in the UK. I am hopeful, though - we are making gains and it seems that mainstream attitudes, availability and priorities are finally shifting.
As I always say, what we need is lots of people doing this zero waste, plastic free, sustainable thing imperfectly, rather than few doing it perfectly - that's how we drive change. I certainly feel inspired and encouraged to emulate the magical things I saw in Maui and Kaua'i and try and be better for our beautiful planet.
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