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Maui Launches Stainless-Steel, Zero-Waste To-Go Container Program

Oceans
A ​HuiZero stainless steel tin at a Maui restaurant.
HuiZero stainless steel tins are intended to replace all single-use to-go containers in Hawaii and beyond. HuiZero

HuiZero, Hawaii's first zero-waste to-go container program, has just launched at participating restaurants across the island of Maui. The tins are food safe, easy to clean and infinitely reusable, making them ideal for an island chain like Hawaii.


HuiZero's mission is to help eliminate single-use plastic and curb plastic pollution across all the Hawaiian islands, said Kevin Watkins II. Watkins is the owner of Maui Sustainable Solutions LLC, the creator of the program and an organization developing technology, programs and infrastructure to create solutions in sustainability. Partnering with Watkins are the Maui Department of Environmental, Environmental Protection & Sustainability Division, the Department of Health and Moku Roots, a vegan and vegetarian, zero-waste and farm-to-table, sustainable restaurant in Maui, he said.

Stainless steel tins. Stainless steel tins are food safe, easy to clean and infinitely reusable, making them perfect for an island chain like Hawaii. HuiZero

In places like Hawaii, single-use plastic pollution and other trash pose a particular challenge for local marine life. Ocean plastics, especially, coming from land and on ocean currents, can entangle whales and dolphins, choke and starve seabirds, fish and baby sea turtles and abrade endangered corals and other sensitive ecosystems.

HuiZero works as a collaboration between restaurant owners and their customers. The former purchase stainless steel HuiZero containers, which are exchangeable at all other participating restaurants. When customers order food to go, they pay a $10 deposit to receive their food in a reusable container. The next time they order from a participating restaurant, they can bring that tin back to receive either $10 cash or $10 credit towards their food, depending on the restaurant. The tins don't need to be brought back clean. Used containers go straight into the dirty dishes pile and get washed, rinsed and sanitized with the rest of the restaurant dishes. Then, they're ready for the next sustainably-minded customer to use.

"Every time a container gets used it's one fewer single-use container in the landfill," Watkins told Maui Now. Since they are infinitely reusable they have the potential to rid Maui of single-use food containers.

Their durability and reusable nature also make them ideal for Hawaii, which often has to import things like food containers from the mainland and abroad. Long term, a program like this could potentially reduce carbon emissions from reduced shipping and plastic-production needs.

The innovative program hopes its stainless steel tins will replace both petroleum-based and plant-based single-use to-go containers. As its webpage says, this matters because "most of the time even 'compostable' containers end up in the landfill. While paper or cardboard containers with no plastic liner can be composted in a backyard compost, 'bioplastics' will only break down in an industrial composting facility which Maui does not have."

"Our program is simple and easy for both restaurants and consumers, coordinating with local governments in promoting the single-use plastic legislation taking effect in each county," Watkins told EcoWatch.

Between Maui Sustainable Solutions, LLC and Moku Roots, they've created farm-to-table practices, installed a distributed network of free water refill stations across the islands and launched the #plasticfreemaui campaign. Now, with the HuiZero program, they're already coordinating expansion onto other Hawaiian islands as well as developing its mainland sister company, Watkins said.

HuiZero actually came to be after Maui Sustainable Solutions received a grant from the Department of Environmental Protection, Environmental Management and Sustainable Division for a feasibility study on reusable to-go containers for Maui. The program is already gaining notoriety in places far away from Hawaii. In the Florida Keys, local restaurateurs are following along to see if they can do something similar.

"We are developing our mainland launch, we encourage anyone wishing to bring this to their state or county to collaborate with us in launching an effective and efficient launch," Watkins offered.

While Watkins noted that "we have a culture and economy that overlooks our waste problems until there are dire and expensive repercussions," he also emphasized how HuiZero and other programs like it can make a tangible difference. He said, "A lot of people doing a little bit for sustainability is most definitely vital to curbing ocean waste and landfill issues."

HuiZero stainless steel tins are part of a circular economy and sustainability push in Hawaii. HuiZero stainless steel tins are part of a circular economy and sustainability push in Hawaii. HuiZero

Tiffany Duong is a writer, explorer and motivational speaker. She holds degrees from UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. As a contributing reporter at EcoWatch, she gives voice to what's happening in the natural world. Her mission is to inspire meaningful action and lasting change. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @tiffmakeswaves.

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