Wasting less in Hawaii

Wasting less in Hawaii

A place where plastic bags don’t exist and the only sunscreen you can buy is reef safe... does this exist… why yes it does.

Hawaii was our first big trip since starting The Eco Society and the first trip where we're making a big effort to minimise our waste and go plastic-free while travelling. I may have over packed to ensure we can maintain this lifestyle while we are away from home, but I like to be prepared. We also knew this might be a challenge, but one we were definitely ready for.

We spent most of our time on the Island of Kauai, nicked name the Garden Island. Kauai is the 4th largest Island in Hawaii. The North side of the Island is lush and tropical, the south side is dryer and more desert-like. The diverse landscape of the island means we were spoilt for choice when it came to activities and culture. We were able to enjoy exploring the small villages, snorkelling with turtles and hiking the mountains.

 Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail

So, how did we do!? In all honesty, it was a little hard, and we definitely did not live up to our normal standards when it came to creating less waste and being plastic free, but this was to be expected. Due to the remoteness of the island, our package free and plastic free options were limited, and being a visitor to the island, we didn’t always know the best places to go to get package free produce.  

When travelling with others, I also tend to be a bit quieter when it comes to talking about and enforcing my values. It’s not that I go easier on myself, it’s more that I don’t want to be that that annoying person who has strict requirements and who stops others from having fun – if there was a cool place to go and eat some local fare, but it comes with a bit of waste, then I’m more likely to go with the flow to ensure I don’t miss out on the experience, or ruin it for others. It’s a bit easier with Simon on my team and having a stash of reusables that I can share around. I will always make the best of any situation and did my best to ensure everyone avoided straws.


In the time leading up to our trip, I learnt that Hawaii had introduced a ban on sunscreens containing chemicals harmful to coral reefs. Finding a reef safe sunscreen that is easy to apply, actually works and is plastic free is difficult. So, I was excited to head to Hawaii and check out their options. All the sunscreens were reef safe but still came in plastic bottles. I did, however, came across Raw Elements in a surf shop, which had the option to buy it in a tin as well as plastic bottles.

Protect Hawaii | Raw Elements reef safe sunscreen 

We brought along NZ made natural sunscreen to test, which in all honesty didn’t work for us. The sun was intense, it was hot and having to apply thick white paste that needed to be reapplied every hour meant that we ended up a bit burnt and feeling gross and disappointed.

Over the last year, I have tried a number sunscreens that are reef safe and in tins rather than in plastic. I have yet to find the right sunscreen for us and will continue to research this until I find it and can share it with others.

Plastic Bags

It took me a while to click that there were no plastic bags on the island. This was most obvious when walking through the supermarket and only seeing paper bags for packing up produce at the counter. I didn’t pay much attention at first until I noticed it at another store, so I did some research. The island of Kauai banned plastic bags in 2009! WOW! Retailers are only allowed to provide recyclable paper bags or reusable bags to their customers. The purpose of the legislation was to reduce the significant impacts of plastic bags on the environment, which include litter, an increasing burden on the landfill, and threats to marine life. In 2015, the rest of Hawaii also introduced a plastic bag ban. Yah Kauai!


Food shopping is always the hardest part of avoiding plastic packaging. I had lined up a few stores that had bulk food sections, but they were either not in the areas we were staying or closed. Most of the fruit and vegetables were package free, which was a win. But, all the meat and fish was on polystyrene trays and there was no butcher around where we could take our own containers.

When hungry and with others we made decisions to get items in plastic/polystyrene packaging, the very things we would avoid at home. I know, we suck, and this is not a proud moment but sometimes we have to compromise our values depending on the situation and circumstances. It was also expensive, so there were choices made based on cost! This highlights the need for manufacturers to get on board with the waste-free movement and give consumers the choices we need to make environmentally conscious decisions!

We ate out a lot, which is an easy way to directly avoid plastic packaging, especially if you pick a restaurant or café that has “real” plates and cutlery, rather than disposables. America has a bad wrap for their use of disposables, and we did find a lot, but I was pleasantly surprised to see most places in Kauai with plant-based compostable packaging (whether or not it actually got disposed of correctly is another matter).

I always had a bag of reusables in the car, so we could avoid as much single-use plastic cutlery as possible. The main thing in my waste reduction arsenal we used was our Rechusable cutlery kit and spork, our coffee cups of course, a mason jar and stainless steel straw. 

My reusable stash

All in all, by being prepared but still having realistic expectations, we were able to ensure we reduced our impact on the environment, while still being able to enjoy all the fun adventures that made for a great trip. I always knew that it would be harder when travelling to live up to our normal standards, but I'm happy with the efforts we made based on options available. 

I have much more to share with you about our trip to Hawaii. The next post will be all about the adventures we had exploring the beautiful island of Kauai, including coffee tasting, swimming with turtles and getting muddy. 

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