That stinks!

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 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.

6 Responses to That stinks!

  1. Seven C's September 20, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

    So true.

  2. Diane, Evan and Maia September 20, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    Nice post, Behan. And definitely a huge issue.

  3. Anonymous September 21, 2010 at 1:45 am #

    Excellent thoughts and ideas! I can certainly somewhat relate being a boatowner and having travelled in the areas where you are.
    People who live in the Bali areas of Indonesia are trying to control the “platic” problem. Some restaurants(in Ubud) are not using straws and no cups or bottles. THe Lembah Straits are really littered and the Lembah Resort, for one, is having their dive staff clean up and trying to educate the local people. However many “critters” have taken refuge in the debris…as you know!

    good work, Behan, spreading this important message to the boating community! Miss you and the family!

  4. Cecilia September 23, 2010 at 4:10 am #

    I love your blog. We are a familly with 3 kids and are planning to live on board next year and satr travelling. What kind of boat is yours? Best regards,

  5. Naomi September 24, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    Behan…we struggled with garbage and recycling on the boat constantly. I’d continually separate, clean and save plastic, glass and paper products. Only to find absolutely no place to put them, and have to launch these into the garbage cans. So sad. In the end, we chose a solution like yours…to think about what comes on the boat foremost. With primary consideration to products that had the least amount of plastic waste. After seeing all those remote beaches in the middle of nowhere just covered in plastic garbage, we decided that plastic was the ultimate enemy and to be avoided at all costs! We got used to it…but it sure is nice to have a recycling bin under our sink, now that we’re home for a few months!! Fair winds…

  6. Behan September 25, 2010 at 6:30 pm #

    Cecilia, Totem is a Stevens 47.

    Jan, I *love* hearing that about Bali! When I lived there in 1990/91 the plastic in ravines was really depressing. It’s hard to change habits when everything that’s been thrown over the back fence for generations was biodegradable.

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