Relate, Repeat, Reframe: A little inconvenience goes a long way toward change

I’m just back from spending a heavenly 4-day weekend on Maui, a place deeply connected to my family history, and an island I feel I know quite well. I’ve been blessed with many reasons to stay on the Valley Isle, often for quick visits, and occasionally for longer stays, with entire Kula summers and Kihei winters tucked within my fondest memories; Maui is definitely part of my sense of place.

However no place stays the same forever, and something about Maui had changed in a very unexpected way this visit. It seems a small thing on the face of it, and my husband and I were surprised at how big a change it became in our habits there — you’ll grin at first to hear what it is, and you might even wonder why I’d bother to blog about it, but do bear with me for the moral of the story. The change? On Maui you will never again hear the question, “Paper or plastic?” for on January 11th of this year, “no plastic” bag laws went into effect in Maui and Kauai Counties in Hawai‘i. Biodegradable plastic doesn’t make the cut either; the law states that “Businesses are prohibited from providing plastic bags to their customers at the point of sale for the purpose of transporting groceries or other goods.”

Now this is a law I’m completely in favor of, and I wish we’d follow suit in the rest of Hawai‘i, and elsewhere. We’ve been using reusable bags at home, and I’ve even made bags of my own by repurposing old T-shirts (softer, and so much easier to wash!) however this past weekend was the first time we found ourselves in a place where volunteering to opt out of using plastic wasn’t enough — we had no choice. If you forget your own bag while on Maui, you may not be given any other option, for under the Maui ordinance, retailers and other business owners are not required to provide consumers with either paper or reusable bags, and the surprise for us, was that many simply don’t. You’re on your own: If you haven’t planned ahead, you have your two hands and whatever more you can stack or cradle within your arms (or in the stretched out hem of your shirt if desperate”).

As I said, this is something we’re good about at home — or so we thought. While on Maui, we realized just how much “or other goods” pertains to: We bring our reusable bags to Costco and the grocery store routinely, but we often forget about them with nearly everything else we buy.

I’d forgotten to pack a swim suit, and bought one as the summer sun burned brightly and the hotel pool beckoned, and after the boutique clerk rung me up and collected payment, she handed me my receipt and simply waited for me to scoop up my purchase from the counter myself and move on. I stood there waiting too, until she leaned forward and whispered, “Didn’t you bring a bag? Good thing swimwear fits in your purse, huh.” She discreetly caught the eye of a gentleman standing near the door, and gave him a slight head tilt which I instantly knew to mean, “This one will be okay; you watching?” He smiled at me as I tucked my purchase away, making sure the tags were out of sight, and my husband blurted out, “Really? Here too?”

There are no exceptions made for visitors. “No plastic” means no plastic, and often no bag at all. Businesses had fought the law, but six months later they seem to have embraced it wholeheartedly — it’s kind of cool expecting your customers to be prepared, and take the high road! It took us a while to learn our lesson, for in the next hour we were nervously stacking eight plate lunches we’d volunteered to pick up for my nephew’s baseball game, hoping they had gone light with the gravy. Paper bags did save us at the grocery store later (they were sold out of the reusable bags they now sell), but only as far as the car trunk: With all we bought they were pretty torn up and we had to retrieve laundry sacks from the hotel to get our bounty up to our room.

A little inconvenience can go a long way though. Our third and fourth day on Maui we had reusable bags with us everywhere we went, and I mean everywhere. Next time I go to Maui, Kauai, or anywhere for that matter, I’ll be packing my T-shirt bags — something I’ve never done before as the road warrior I am. In fact, I’ve already tucked a small size into the carry-on I always take.

And you know what? I fully expect that we’ll keep up with our newly improved habit now that we’re back home again, and even though we don’t have to: We get to be better, and we want to. We’re newly thrilled with the thought of setting a better example to lead more change on our own island. While walking from the airline ticket counter prior to our flight home yesterday, my husband turned to me and I expected him to ask which gate we were headed to, but what he said was, “I wonder if the garbage bags we use at home are biodegradable? We’ll have to check.” As we settled into our seats and buckled up he brought it up again, saying, “Okay, this will be our new challenge; how can we get away from using plastic for garbage too?”

Out with the old”

I was so proud of him, and couldn’t help smiling: This was our living, working, and managing with Aloha value alignment in progress, as two people with long-standing habits understanding they could change, and become better.

All of this has had me thinking anew about what I’ve learned about change over the years, and how we consistently talk about it in the change required with the culture-building connected to Managing with Aloha. We’ve well understood that people don’t resist change per se, they resist being changed. To logically and intellectually believe in something is not enough to effect change, no matter how emotionally convicted you might feel about it: There must be a relationship to someone or something (like a relationship to a need), that will get you to actually take action. Then, for the action to truly set and stick, there must be repetition, enough for a good habit to kick in where a less desirable one had existed before. A new reframing must result, and we must buy in to it completely, not partially, and not most of the time, but all of the time. There can be no acceptable exceptions.

I’ve believed in being eco-minded, green and good to the earth, and do hope we can keep plastic waste out of our streets, parks, landfills and oceans, but I still used plastic bags when it was convenient. Maui had to reframe the entire issue for me in a much more personal way, and it had to force my hand.

I am so glad it did. I do want to walk my talk, in every thing, and in every way. Don’t you?


  1. Anne says

    Wow! I love this thought-provoking post, Rosa! And your idea w/ using old t-shirts, easy to pack, wash, etc. I, also, had not have thought about stores other than grocery which supplies endless plastic bags. This is a change I want to make, too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and actions and reactions and bravo to Maui!

  2. Roselia Conrad says

    No plastic bags on Maui and Kauai….wow…amazing. The other islands will follow.
    So proud that enough people were brave enough to do what is pono for our ‘aina.
    So proud of you and your husband for living a better life…aye.
    Although I usually do carry my own bag everywhere I go, I will be even more mindful about it too. And the garbage plastic bag….hmmmm….yes, THAT will be challenging.
    What did we do before plastic bags? I will think tiredlessly, and engage my husband’s memory as well. Growing up, we had no plastic bags. Hmmm, how did we do that?
    What a great blog, Rosa….thank you.