If there's one thing we've learned here at Protea Zero Waste, it's that everyone has a different journey to a lower-waste lifestyle, and living more sustainably can look different for everyone. That's why we love to share these Zero Waste Hero features, so we can show off some of the awesome people in our community, and the ways in which they fit zero waste practices into their everyday lives!
We're excited to feature some Zero Waste Heroes that we've admired for a long time: Stephanie and Chesea - the wonderful women behind MicroMahalo!
If you're not familiar with MicroMahalo, it's a small, local business that collects and repurposes Microplastics from the beaches of Oahu, making them into magnets, letters, coasters, bookmarks and more! Every item is handmade, and 15% of every order goes back to local beach & ocean conservation organizations.
A little background on Stephanie & Chelsea:
Stephanie is originally from Iowa, where she grew up and went to college on a soccer scholarship. She later ventured through the south, living five years in Cocoa Beach, Florida, then four near Wilmington, North Carolina where she met her now husband. The military brought them to Oahu in the fall of 2018, and according to Stephanie, she officially never wants to leave!
Chelsea grew up in a tiny town in the middle of Montana called White Sulphur Springs where she graduated with just 19 people! She went to college in Missoula, MT and then after an especially cold winter where it was -45 I decided it was time to move someplace warm. She packed up her small car and headed straight to San Diego, where she met her husband. They have lived in California, Florida, and then moved to Oahu right before COVID hit. Like Stephanie, if Chelsea could stay here forever she would, she has fallen in love with Hawaii.
What are your hobbies/passions in life?
I know we won’t be able to stay on Oahu forever, but I’d love to have the chance to also open up a zero waste store on the mainland one day. I love entrepreneurship, small businesses, being creative, and inspiring people. I can’t count how many friends, family members and even strangers who have reached out for advice or tips on product swaps for their homes.
I’m also very passionate about our dog, Jack, and let’s be real, any other dog that will let me pet it. My newest hobby has been with plants, and (unknowingly) turning our lanai into an utter jungle
Currently I am very passionate about Micro Mahalo. I love that I can repurpose all of the plastics that wash up here, bringing a little beauty and shedding a light on this issue. We even use the larger pieces in our items because why not! I'd rather they be used than thrown away to end up who knows where!
I love when people come up to me at markets and tell me about a beach cleanup they did or an art project they made with plastics. It would be a dream to continue to operate Micro Mahalo forever.
I also am very passionate about pretty much any animal that lives in a shell. I volunteer at the Bishop Museum in the Malacology department where I care for native hawaiian land snails who are all facing extinction. This strangely led me to an interest in sustainable aquaculture, I've been learning and exploring that as a possible option in the future. I think if my family ended up running an oyster or clam farm in the future we'd be pretty happy, possibly a little smelly, but happy nonetheless.
My family is pretty active; we love hiking, running ( never thought I'd say that), kayaking, and my husband and I are about to learn to sail! You can always find us exploring new places, especially local coffee shops! Other than that you'll find me drawing on my ipad trying to come up with new designs for my art business -Coastal Kind.
Tell us more about MicroMahalo!
It all started once I finally learned about the problem our oceans are facing. I’d spend days on the beach with Jack, picking up all sorts of trash and felt bad knowing it would just end up back in a landfill.
I knew letterboards were popular, and Hawaii certainly has plenty of tourists looking for unique souvenirs, so I started playing with a mold, spelling out KAILUA or HAWAII. My hope was that maybe someone would see them, and not only have something to remember their trip by, but also learn something, just as I had.
Our name essentially means “a tiny thank you.” Micro = microplastics and Mahalo for thank you. I don’t have enough words to thank everyone for their support. People from all over the world have come across our original idea and have shared posts, purchased gifts and helped spread the word about plastic pollution. It’s inspiring to see so many people that care!
I came across Micro Mahalo through my other business account - Coastal Kind, where I create coastal inspired art and other paper goods. I was so completely inspired by what I saw and wanted to get involved as soon as we got on Island.
Whether Stephanie knew it or not- I knew we would be great friends! That friendship grew as we shared booths at markets and then when Stephanie talked to me about considering someone to take over the business I knew we were brought together for a reason. I get so excited when a friend tells me they switched to bamboo toothbrushes or - just this morning a big parenting influencer on Instagram told me she was switching to compostable doggy poop bags- those small impacts inspire me to do more and share more because I really think everyone making small changes will create a huge difference.
I am in awe of what Stephanie built and I'm looking forward to where I can take Micro Mahalo in the future.
What first got you interested in reducing your waste/living a lower-waste lifestyle?
Having spent the last ten years along the Atlantic Ocean, I was oblivious to what was occurring under the water. Aside from knowing that trash in the ocean was bad, Microplastics themselves just didn’t exist on the beaches where I lived.
Moving here opened up a whole new world for me, and I was grateful to cross paths with someone getting her masters in marine debris. I learned so much from her, and during this same time, Protea Zero Waste was forming and I started doing research on some simple swaps. Even just a couple small changes can add up, inspire others, and make an impact.
I grew up playing in the mountains, streams, and lakes of Montana. My father was a river guide on the Missouri river and my mother was always looking to find healthier ways to live, so I have always had such a huge respect for taking care of nature.
Slowly I started making swaps where I could - using reusable shopping bags, choosing eco friendly/sustainable products, and eating more plant-based. I didn't realize the extent of the plastic problem until finding Micro Mahalo on instagram! Stephanie's posts really inspired me!
In what ways do you implement zero waste practices in your life?
My 2020 New Years resolution was to implement one zero waste practice or item into my life each month, and I’m proud to say that that was the first resolution I have actually stuck to - and then some. By the end of the year, I think I was at about 20+ items! I’m grateful to have a husband that gets on board, as well as friends and strangers that share ideas and have been inspired by my swaps.
One of my favorite zero waste practices right now is dryer balls with essential oils! Laundry in general is a big contributor to the microplastic problems in our oceans. So any way that I can lessen that impact, I'm happy to do it. We also completely quit using paper towels in our house about 6 months ago and while that was an adjustment for my family I am so proud of us!
I am continually looking for ways to be zero or low waste and thankfully my family goes along with any ideas I find.
What is your favorite zero waste swap or tip?
Oh that’s a tough one, there are many! I love the washable makeup remover pads I got from Protea, and the Swedish Dish Cloths which have 100% helped me cut down on paper towel usage. I also made the switch to bamboo toilet paper and my husband didn’t even notice! I was thrilled to find a quality dog poop bag too!
Using rags for spills/cleaning and cloth napkins! Keep a little bin under your sink or in your laundry room to toss the dirty ones and when it's full toss it all in the wash. I am also a really big fan of Elate cosmetics which I buy at Protea - while not totally zero waste their products are sustainable, low-waste, and made with ethical ingredients.
You can follow along with Stephanie & Chelsea's journeys with MicroMahalo and Coastal Kind on Instagram: @micromahalo & @hellocoastalkind
And visit both of their online shops here:
Have a zero waste or sustainability-related story to share? Send an email to email@example.com to be one of our next Zero Waste Hero features!