We've been thinking dirty thoughts lately… specifically, about waste. We wrote about it in a more organized / for-the-public manner for the August issue of 48 North magazine (downloadable from www.48North.com). This is more of an unvarnished stream of consciousness.
There's no doubt that living on a boat puts you more in tune with the garbage: every item that comes on board is considered (it's tight living space, and clutter can make it claustrophobic) and every bit of trash we produce must be taken off. Disposal is more complicated than wheeling a bin to the curb once a week or tossing a bag down the chute. It was one of the most difficult transitions for cruising outside the US: not only are there are no more convenient recycling bins, there is often no place to dispose of any kind of garbage at all. It pushes us to consider the waste we produce in a different light.
So, what do *we* do?
Most of our garbage is organic matter that can go overboard. Not in any body of water, though- it must 'flush' and the size of the waste is a consideration. Even if it breaks down eventually, nobody wants our hunks of pamplemousse rind scattered on their beach. But scraps of leftovers, coffee grounds, etc. that break down or become nutrients for another organism are easier to chuck out the porthole. Out in the big blue, materials which degrade without doing harm go over for sinking: glass bottles and metal cans. It does feel awkward to throw anything over, but we pop out the bottom of the glass and sink them with the cry- "fish house!"
What's left accumulates on board until it can be disposed of on shore: anything containing plastics. This may not seem like much, but consider that we may have weeks between opportunities to dispose. Think also about how difficult it is to make a complete round of grocery store purchases without acquiring any plastic, since almost all packaging contains at least some.
Then, of course, even when we do get to a dumpster ashore where we can leave our trash: what is the usual outcome? It depends on the location, but the waste is usually just being burned, and occasionally seen fluttering down the beach. It's not an attractive idea.
We've come a long way since cruising guides in the 80s (but even the 90s) recommended cutting plastic waste into small pieces before disposing them overboard (hello, not only stupid, but illegal?!). Even one of my favorite cruising writers recommended only using non-rechargable batteries for electronics aboard "because they work better" (um…irresponsible and innacurate?). One of the classic cruising cookbooks even encourages the use of disposable plates and cutlery for convenience and water savings on a passage.
We've still got a long way to go- all of us, shoreside and boaters alike.