Let’s talk about plastic and sailing

Yes, this the latest “hot topic”. Everyone seems to be talking about single-use plastic; from plastic bags to plastic straws. Having spent several months in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, I can tell you, the problem is real. And it’s not pretty.

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 idyllic from the water had shores scattered with plastic and other rubbish. It was often a shock when the environment looked pristine from the boat. For example, the stunning bay we were anchored in (Solta, Croatia) above, had litter on the pebbled shore below. These were just quick random snapshots as examples of the shoreline.

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 litter. What is surprising is that on ocean passages, miles from nowhere, we would still see a stream of plastic waste floating by.

I’ve become 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. Then there are the other items such as  shampoo and liquid soap containers, dishwashing and cloth washing liquid containers.

When you store your garbage, it becomes obvious how much single-use plastic you buy and discard. On an optimistic note, many marinas have implemented recycling and waste separation stations. Other sailors in the Med are actively picking up trash in their anchorages on particular days eg “Trash Tuesdays”, and taking it ashore for proper disposal.

I’ll be honest, this season I wasn’t prepared. No excuses, but we had a lot on our plates commissioning our boat. However, the things I did were:

– shop with a trolley and reusable bags

– use beeswax wrappers instead of cling wrap (they keep food fresher anyway)

– use reusable storage containers

– buy supermarket items in glass rather than plastic if there’s a choice

– recycle cardboard and bottles where possible

– picked plastic out of the water

Some of these things actually made life on board simpler and easier.

Could I do more? Absolutely, much more. So next year, I’ll be working on researching and trying products that reduce waste (including plastics) and are kinder to the environment in general. Some of these include:

– trying shampoo and soap bars with minimal or compostable packaging

– using reusable bags for fruit and vegetables (weighing and costing etc)

– increasing beeswax wrapper on board

– trying calico bags for storage of fresh fruit and vegetables

– shop in bulk when possible (especially for dry goods), this includes buying from the deli instead or prepackaged meats and cheeses

– using bamboo toothbrushes

– researching an eco-friendly alternative to clothes washing liquid

– declining plastic straws when ordering drinks

– using washable, cotton cleaning cloths

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.

 

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