Zero Waste Trip USA: Hawaii

This time last month I was in the USA, relaxing in Hawaii and visiting family in Arkansas. It was a fantastic trip, with many precious memories made. It was also the first zero waste trip I had made to the United States.

...and, it was harder than I thought it would be. I have completed trips to Myanmar, China and Philippines where avoiding waste was easier. But each country is different.

One lesson I have taken from my other zero waste trips is to simply be prepared. For this trip I did things like research the airlines, the airports for water dispensers, bulk food stores plus the tools we would need to shop and eat zero waste. Read my five Items that will make your plastic free holiday easy over at Plastic Free Tuesday.

The bulk of our trash on our last trip was made up of baggage tags that are attached to luggage when checked in. We decided to not check in any luggage and stick to carry on for the three weeks. You can read what I packed in my bags here.

The beginning of the trip

We flew to Hawaii with Jetstar, a budget Australian airline. Jetstar passengers must pre-purchase meals when booking their tickets, something I think all airlines should offer. We did not pre-purchase meals, instead we took our own food onto the plane that we snacked on.We could refill our bottles with the help of the staff.

No blankets or pillows are offered either. I packed a maxi skirt that could be used for my inflight blanket and packed clothes into one of my food bags for use as a pillow. Save on plastic packaging, save on waste and save on $$$$.

The Builder did encounter a small plastic wine bottle (I don't drink on planes - it just makes me puffy and leaves me feeling blah). He thought it would be glass. The staff assured us the plastic bottle would be recycled. He drank it bitterly.

Our plane arrived in the morning. I love that wonderful feeling of getting off a place in a warm climate when you come from a cold one. We had a connecting flight to Maui, that we found out would be delayed until late afternoon. We had eaten all our food (I had not prepared for a delayed connecting flight!) and feeling a little tired plus hangry the search for unpackaged food (or at the very least something recyclable) commenced.

We could not find anywhere in the main terminal that would serve food onto into our containers or cloth bags. There was a restaurant/bar in the airport that had ceramic dishes on the bar. Jackpot, we thought. A sandwich was ordered, and while we waited, a celebratory 'we are on holiday' local beer was poured. Then the sandwich came out...on styrofoam plates? If you are in this position at Honolulu airport find Quiznos. It was hidden in another terminal and the sandwiches come wrapped in paper (we discovered as we watched others eat them). Honolulu does have water stations to refill bottles.

One plastic wine bottle, two styrofoam plates...not off to the best start.

An email to the Honolulu airport about their lack of fruit for sale and a flight later we arrived in Maui. We headed to Paia, twenty minutes from the airport in Kahului and settled in for the week.


Our week on Maui was filled with trips along the Road to Hana (one of America's top road trips), swimming, hiking through lush forests, walking to a dormant volcano, driving along slim winding roads that leaves the average tourist wondering how the locals do it, watching my man kite board, writing, eating fresh tropical fruit, admiring turtles from the shoreline (so many turtles!!!) and wondering if I would run into Oprah. I didn't bump into Oprah but we were privy to a performance by Willie Nelson in his bar...and we did not realise it was his bar or him until we got back to Australia.

Zero Waste Trip USA: Hawaii

If you read my post on what I packed, you will remember that we took a backpack that had a bunch of items to make our trip zero waste easy. Containers, bags, cups, cutlery, straws. Wherever we went, the bag came too.

The Road to Hana was beautiful and is a major draw card for peoples visits. But my favorite part of it was visiting Coconut Glen's Ice Cream Stand. It was non dairy, made from coconut cream. We saw that the ice cream came in cardboard cups and asked if we could get the ice cream in our own cups. The dude in the stand pulled out old coconut shells instead saying we could use them if we did not mind eating at the stand. Alot of people take the paper cups to go. We used our own spoons to devour the delicious coconut cream. A must visit! Really really good. Like I went on about for a few days.

We really enjoyed staying in Paia. I not only picked it for the location but also because the guest house we stayed in had a working kitchen, plus they composted. Paia also boasts a great bulk food store called Mana Foods and we bought food from there and took it back to the house to cook. Try the local yams and sweet potatoes - heaven! We were able to eat locally sourced food the whole time we were there.

We did not eat out that much. But the times we did a race would commence to ask the waiter for no straw in our complimentary water. The first time took us by surprise because Australian's don't do straws in water.  Aussies will plonk down a glass bottle of water and two glass cups. The first time we asked a waiter that we don't want a straw - well it was an event. Be prepared for straws when in America. The first time you meet your waiter they will be serving you water with a straw. Tell the person seating you, who will be different to waiter, that you don't want any water. Then when you waiter does come ask for water with no straw. 

The easiest way to get around Maui is with a car. The island is dotted with little roadside stalls selling fruit, cakes and BBQ. We had our plastic free/zero waste travel kit on us at all times, so if we were hungry we could stop and grab something in our containers. Paia had many restaurants, but we enjoyed the food we cooked more. We ate vegetarian when we were cooking for ourselves as we could not find unpackaged meat. Keeping vegetables and fruit is easier than keeping meat so we were happy with being vegetarian. Whatever food we cooked for the evening was consumed for lunch the next day (the guest house provided free breakfast - fresh fruit from their backyard!!!). And it was not fancy cooking, just grilling local vegetables on the BBQ at the guest house. Mana Foods do have a place to buy ready made meals in to go containers but we did not ask if we could use our own.

Maui is a pretty switched on island when it comes to sustainability. Actually the whole state of Hawaii is. Being an island state they have to deal with many ramifications of plastic pollution and waste. There are plenty of beach clean ups happening on various islands too. While we could not get involved with any while we were there, that did not stop us from rolling up our sleeves and taking 3 (or more) for the sea.

With plenty of research, cooking at our guesthouse and enjoying the simple things we were able to keep waste to a minimum.

Here is the rubbish from our time in Hawaii...

We did not take the styrofoam plates because the waiter took them before we could say anything. The waiters are fast in the US!

Next stop is Arkansas...where you might be asking, why we went there!


  1. I'm heading to Hawaii (Waikiki) in the early 2016. I'm actually a bit worried about all the waste I might create on holidays. I've already planned to bring containers, drink bottles, bags and cutlery. What I'm most concerned about is we'll be pretty much be eating out every day and restaurants LOVE giving kids water in styrofoam cups. So unnecessary.

    1. Styrofoam is so unnecessary. Hopefully if you ask for glass they will give it. Have a great trip! You sound very prepared for it.

  2. Just wondering for your carry-on, how did you compact your liquids without using the traditional plastic mini travel size tubes?

    1. I put my stuff like oil, toothpaste, soap into glass jars or tin.

  3. Anonymous3/24/2018

    Not zero waste. How much CO2 did you produce?

    1. You are right. If you look at everything there was waste. What i try to focus on is limiting my contribution to landfill through my everyday actions.


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