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Single-use plastics continues to be a hot topic with many discussing the environmental impact of this plastic; from plastic bags to plastic straws. In this article, I look at solutions and alteratives to single-use plastics especially when sailing.
Plastics in Our Oceans
After spending several months in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, it was evident that the issue of plastic waste in our oceans is real; and it’s not pretty. It’s estimated that approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans every day. Plastics also consistently make up 60 to 90% of all marine debris studied.
Plastic debris littered the water, beaches and shores, to various degrees, in every place we visited. The more popular and populated the anchorage, the more rubbish there was. We often saw plastic bottles, the remains of plastic bags, balloons, styrofoam and inflatables. There was even a plastic coverall floating in the Atlantic Ocean (alarmingly looking very much like a floating body). In Sicily, I pulled pieces of a partially disintegrated plastic bag from one of the propellers. Bays that looked so pristine from the boat had shores scattered with plastic and other rubbish. It was often a shock. A stunning bay in Solta, Croatia (seen in the photo above), had waste plastic litter on the pebbled shore.
The seabed, sadly, also was often littered with rubbish and remnant parts from boats and marinas.
While it may not be too surprising that where there are people, there is rubbish; what is surprising is that on ocean passages, miles from nowhere, we would still see a stream of plastic waste floating by on the currents.
Plastic Waste on A Boat
Seeing plastic discarded in the water and on the beaches made me hyper-aware of the amount of plastic that surrounds any food bought from supermarkets, especially the processed foods. Everything from cheese to prosciutto to UHT milk. In many places in Europe, fresh fruits and vegetables are often placed in plastic bags to be weighed, priced and labelled before checkout. My experience of trying to change that practice was interesting and unsuccessful. I picked fresh vegetable without using a bag to be weighed at checkout, only to have the cashier place the items into a plastic bag before checking them out. Other everyday house hold items such as shampoo, liquid soap, dishwashing and clothes washing liquid containers, are all single use plastic.
When you store your garbage onboard a boat, it becomes apparent how much single-use plastics contributes to this waste.
Encouragingly, many marinas now have recycling and waste separation stations. Sailors in the Mediterrean are actively picking up trash in their anchorages on particular days (“Trash Tuesdays”), and taking it ashore for proper disposal. I tried to do the same at anchorages.
I’ll be honest, during our first cruising season, I wasn’t prepared to minimise plastics onboard. No excuses, but while commissioning our boat, addressing the single use plastic issue didn’t feature in our “to do” list.
Alternatives to Single Use Plastics
However, the things I implemented as alternatives to single use plastics were:
- A shopping trolley (foldable and insulated if you can get it) and reusable bags
- Using beeswax wrappers instead of cling wrap (they keep food fresher anyway)
- Using reusable glass storage containers (which can be used for cooking and reheating)
- Buying supermarket items in glass rather than plastic if there’s a choice
- Recycling cardboard and bottles where possible
- Collecting plastic debri out of the water
More Alternatives to Single Use Plastics
Could I do more? Absolutely, much more. So here are some other alternatives to single use plastics that can be used on board:
- Using shampoo and soap bars with minimal or compostable packaging
- Using reusable bags for fruit and vegetables (weighing and costing etc)
- Increasing beeswax wrappers on board
- Using cotton/muslin bags for storage of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Shopping in bulk when possible (especially for dry goods), this includes buying from the deli instead or prepackaged meats and cheeses
- Using bamboo toothbrushes
- Looking for an eco-friendly alternative to clothes washing liquid
- Using stainless steel clothes pegs
- Decline plastic straws when ordering drinks (and taking a reuseable straw)
- Using washable, cotton cleaning cloths instead of sponges
I’m sure there are many, many more actions I could take. Let me know if there are things you’ve done on your boat to be kinder on the environment while sailing. I’d love to hear about it.
Updated: October 2019