You may have noticed a new trend popping up across Hawaii: zero waste stores. The first in the state was Protea Zero Waste in Kailua, which opened online in 2017 and as a brick-and-mortar store in 2020. Today, there are sustainable stores for personal care, home and cleaning products, electronics, and more.
Lori Mallini, co-owner of Protea, says seeing plastic pollution on Hawaii’s beaches inspired her to open the store. “It was coming here, seeing that, going to a cleanup, and knowing that there had to be another way we could not just reactively clean up the beaches but proactively do something different,” says Mallini. “Since we've opened, there are six or seven zero waste stores throughout the islands. It goes to show that the demand is there.”
What is zero waste?
The zero waste movement aims to create a circular approach to consumption. For stores like Protea and Keep it Simple zero waste store in Kaimuki, this means offering reusable containers, packaging-free products, and refills on household staples like laundry detergent and shampoo. Providing consumers with alternatives to disposable plastic packaging is a meaningful step toward the movement’s goal of eliminating waste sent to landfills and preventing marine pollution.
“It's the society that we're in. It's how things are now; everything's wrapped in packaging,” says Jill Corn, co-owner of Keep it Simple. “Nobody's perfect. We don't need 10 people doing it perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Why shop sustainably?
It’s a way to take better care of ourselves and the land we live on. It’s also a way to support sustainable local businesses. In Hawaii, thousands of pounds of microplastics, or pieces of plastic that have broken down, wash up on our beaches every year, endangering marine animals and our health.
“You might think it's just one bottle that you're refilling,” says Mallini. “But we keep track of how many bottles we've saved from going into the landfill, and our numbers were close to 14,000 in a year and a half. It just goes to show that even your little action added up with everyone else's to make a really big impact.”
How can you get started?
Going zero waste may seem intimidating but it’s about making one sustainable swap at a time. Corn suggests going to a zero waste store the next time a household item like hand soap runs out and filling a reusable container. Replacing items one at a time instead of trying to do it all at once makes the process less overwhelming.
“Think about it. You take your bag everywhere you go and you just keep reusing the same bag,” Corn says. “It could be the same but for all the containers you have in your household.”
Mallini says it’s all about slowly building conscious, healthy habits. “It builds strong habits in your life to be aware of how much you're consuming, what you're consuming, and who you're supporting,” says Mallini. “It's that doorway into evaluating choices that we make in our everyday life so that we can all make those good choices to make a big impact.”
Most of all, both Mallini and Corn want shoppers to know everyone is welcome at zero waste stores, even those who aren’t ready to purchase anything.
“In our shops, and I think in every zero waste shop, it's a judgment-free zone,” says Corn. “Whether you're coming to learn, to look, or maybe to do one refill, nobody is going to judge you. We think that it's amazing that everybody comes in. Every little bit helps.”