Friday, September 09, 2011

Taking out the Trash

Think twice about plastic.  It stays around for a very long time.

Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.

- Jacques Cousteau

A lot of you have inquired what we do with garbage aboard Rasmus.  First of all, it's important to note that we have never been away from land, and therefore a garbage facility, for more than 5 days.  While 5 days is by no means a "long time" when it comes to traveling by boat - it is long enough to accumulate some trash that can get downright nasty if left to it's own devices.

We have a very small garbage bin aboard Rasmus - it's about the size of one that you'd find in a bathroom.  We have a miniature garbage for a few reasons: 1) small grocery store bags fit perfectly as garbage bags 2) the bin takes up precious little space and 3) the smaller the bin, the less 'garbage' can accumulate and therefore stink.

The first challenge is to make our little bin go a long way.  That means only throwing away what we must throw away.  If something can be re-used, we re-use it or find out if someone else can (that peanut butter jar makes a great storage container for screws, rubber bands, clips, and other small things, fyi).  In addition,  when we are at sea, anything that is a natural food product (like tomato ends, cucumber peels, egg shells,  fruit rinds, moldy leftovers...etc) gets minced into little pieces and tossed overboard as soon as we are a two miles outside an anchorage.  This helps greatly to eliminate a lot of the nastiness of garbage and saves space as well.

The bulk of our trash consists of paper towels, tin cans, glass bottles and the occasional plastic jar or bag.  In order to keep the garbage "clean" - we rinse all cans/jars/bottles thoroughly and then crush the aluminum ones to take up as little space as possible.  While recycling facilities are not everywhere, many islands and cays do have them so we try to keep the glass separate in order to recycle them later.  But what to do with them in the interim?

When we were in the Exumas Land and Sea Park in the Bahamas (where it is prohibited to dispose of any garbage), we accumulated three small bags of garbage over the course of a week.  When full, we secured them tightly and either kept them in the forward chain locker or in the dinghy.  This eliminated any bugs or nasty odors in our boat and we tossed the bags when we went ashore where we could dispense our trash.  Almost every destination has some form of waste removal - most are free - and they are usually in the form of a dumpster near the dinghy dock or right in town so finding a place to dispose of your trash is not difficult, at least in the Caribbean.

But what about when you cross an ocean?

This is another beast all together because you might not reach landfall for 20-40 days (or more) depending on your boat.  Regardless of how lightly you tread and how little waste you generate, 20 days will garner some garbage.  Obviously Scott and I have yet to do this, but some research brought forth the following information...

Believe it or not, according to the US Coast Guard, it is legal to throw almost anything overboard once you get far enough offshore (past 25 miles).  Tin cans?  Not a problem.  Simply use your trusty can opener and remove the bottom (so it sinks and doesn't wash ashore somewhere) and toss it.  Aluminum is a naturally occurring element and will eventually turn into rust and dissolve into nothing (granted, it will take a long time).  Glass bottles?  Break the bottom off those as well (again, so they sink and do not wash ashore) and toss them.  They, too, will not harm the environment and perhaps in 1,000 years some child will pick up the remnants of your wine bottle as beach glass.  How about paper products?  Shred them and toss 'em over.  They too, will dissolve and leave no trace in less than 2 weeks.  And of course, any biodegradable food stuff can be thrown into the sea as well.  Yes - a lot of these items can take a very long time to biodegrade, but as long as you are in the middle of the Ocean and they sink, you should not be doing any environmental harm.  In fact, you might help build a little ecosystem (fish and coral love "stuff" which is why wrecks are often the best dive sites).

So what shouldn't you throw overboard?

Plastic and chemicals (such as your engine oil - so make sure you carry a few spare gallon jugs in which to store it) are HUGE no no's.  Those are two of the biggest culprits of marine degradation and if you don't believe me just do a little research about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  Other things like cigarette butts, batteries, styrofoam and fishing line should stay in the boat as well.  Many people double bag their garbage and stow it, like we did, in a locker until they make landfill landfall.

Living aboard and having to dispose your own waste makes you very mindful of not only what you throw away, but what you purchase and bring aboard as well.   How you dispose of your waste is up to you - but be sure to be responsible and always remember to keep the environment around you in mind.

What tips do you have for stowing garbage while underway?

Brittany & Scott


Jessica said...

Have you figured out how dirty diapers are going to fit in the mix for when you're away from land for periods of time? I'm guessing you'll be leaning towards cloth?

Windtraveler said...
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