Ocean Plastic: Choices for Cruising Yachties

(Pre-Covid19, this article was scheduled for publication in
Opua Yacht Club’s ‘Tell Tales’ : April 2020 issue.) 

The challenge of plastic in our oceans is confronting.  It’d be hard to find a beach anywhere in the world these days free of plastic flotsam so perhaps we as yachties can be part of the solution?  What if we set an example wherever we travel through a low-packaging lifestyle to lower our own impact?

in 2019 I joined my brother to cruise around northern Fiji and share the passage to New Zealand.  As a one-time yacht owner and offshore passage-maker I chose to chat with fellow cruisers about how they view their own ‘waste footprint’.  People expressed concern about the quantity of plastic waste they took ashore for disposal, yet seemed doubtful they could do things differently:

“There’s no choice when you are cruising, things need to be wrapped in plastic to make them last,” one explains.  Another well-travelled individual is certain that, “You can’t avoid buying bottled water, local water is not safe to drink,” while others seem certain, “We are not the problem, you should see what others do!”  

By 2030, it is predicted there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. Globally, only 9% of plastic is recycled the rest is buried in the earth, burnt or blows, falls or is tipped into the sea. For small island Pacific states and nations favoured by cruisers, chances for effective recycling are even less than they are here in NZ. Dispersed populations, vast distances to recycling plants and lack of waste collection infrastructure exacerbate issues.   I see the choice as simple, ‘Do we yachtspeople continue to ignore and add to the problem or will we role model new behaviours for others to follow?’   But first, a story from my time in Fiji to remind us that the effect of our choices may be less clear than we think.

I’m standing in the shade at the start of a coastal walk through the Bouma National Park in Taveuni Island, western Fiji.  Two women from neighbouring yachts have joined us and are handing out plastic-packaged, plastic-sticked lollipops to small children from the village. The yachtswomen beam at each other delighted at the reception of their gifts. The little girls seem happy too, smiling shyly as they unwrap this unexpected treasure and drop the plastic wrappings to float away in the offshore breeze. 

Whose responsibility is that plastic packaging now in the ocean?

Refuse Reduce Reuse Rot Recycle Landfill

 

I am certain most cruising yachtpeople desire to be known as trustworthy voyagers who respect and care for ocean ecosystems in which so many others also live and play.  An easy first step is to reduce the waste created from an onboard lifestyle. The ‘Waste Hierarchy’ triangle’ (illustrated) provides a simple guide for yacht owners and crew looking for solutions to minimise waste.   The most preferable action is at the top of the inverted hierarchy triangle, ‘Refuse’, so that’s a good place to start…

 

10 items you may ‘choose to refuse’ on board

REFUSE Replace with Comments
Storekeeper’s offer of a plastic bag Your own fold-up bag Keep a fold-up shopping bag in your pocket/handbag for unexpected purchases
Fruit and vegetables in plastic bags Your own drawstring net bags Make your own out of recycled net curtains or buy a pack.

Using your own reusable bags role models making plastic bags obsolete.

Wrapped meat on plastic trays Ask where the local butcher is. Take your own reusable plastic bags/containers or ask for it to be wrapped in paper.
Tea bags Loose tea in a pot or individual tea infuser Most tea bags are glued together with plastic adhesive.

 

my teapot
Cleaning products in plastic spray bottles Bicarbonate of soda Sodium bicarbonate is a natural deodoriser and degreaser
Plastic clothes pegs Wooden clothes pegs If they do get blown overboard, they will biodegrade.
Plastic or paper straws Carry your own reusable one or just use your mouth!
To drop cigarette butts on the ground/ in the ocean Carry a portable ashtray, a small screw-top tin or jar. 95% of cigarette butts are a form of plastic. Commonly found in stomachs of seabirds, marine mammals & fish.
cigarette butts 2
To buy plastic-wrapped sweets, plastic pens, instant noodles as gifts Pencils, metal pencil sharpeners, metal water bottles, local foods in re-usable bags. Consider whether your gift is sustainable and what message it role models.
Plastic wrapping around store-bought purchases Leave the packaging at the store when buying new equipment or electronics Take the opportunity to ask the store to request their suppliers switch to packaging-free or eco-friendly packaging

 

In this global world, what we do today on our own boat impacts fellow humans (including those yet unborn) and other species.  Years back a wise elder explained to me how, “we have 4 needs: ‘to Live, to Learn, to Love and to leave a Legacy. ‘”  If you die in a year’s time, how do you want to be remembered by others? As an indifferent abuser of  ocean ecosystems, who met your own needs at the expense of your peers? Or as someone who role modelled a low-impact low-waste lifestyle that many others saw and copied ?

Jane Banfield is a Paihia grandmother with a passion for the ocean.  Her first introduction to yachting was to marry the Kiwi yachtsman who 35 years ago happened upon the remote island school in Vanuatu where she was a volunteer teacher.  A keen kayaker, sailor and almost-daily swimmer, Jane is a self-styled ‘zero waste granny’ who has chosen a low impact packaging-free lifestyle and supports others in the Bay of Islands to do the same.              zerowastegranny@gmail.com

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