September 30, 2010
September 29, 2010
September 28, 2010
September 23, 2010
Recycling is a big part of waste management for most people at home, and a subject that was left mostly out of the prior post. Getting used to *not* recycling was by far one of the most jarring transitions to cruising once we left the U.S. In our experience to date, recycling is rarely available. With the exception of ingrained programs for bottle re-use, we saw no evidence of infrastructure to support collection and processing in Mexico- just efforts at the local level in a few isolated places. I recall exactly 3 places from the thousands of miles we cruised along the coast where there was any formal separation/collection scheme in place. The flip side of this is the informal recycling: families who live literally on garbage, and survive by picking and reselling any scrap items of value. Some may claim this is crudely effective, but I don't think anyone who has seen the way these people live can make the judgment that this approach should be condoned.
Back in our "normal" pre-cruising life, a significant portion of the waste our family produced was recyclable. Putting things in that recycling bin feels good: you're not adding to the landfill, right? I'm not so sure. I think that recycling is mostly a false panacea. How much of this trash- what shoreside folks would put in a recycling bin, and so ease from their conscience- is ever well managed after the initial use anyway? Most of it is downcycled to lower grade plastic, and this is not an indefinite loop. Eventually it has the same incinerator/landfill fate, and meanwhile, there is a petroleum cost added to each step. As more jurisdictions require residents to recycle, we hear about overburdened recycling centers and recyclables heading to the landfill anyway. We saw bins on Hiva Oa in the Marquesas for collecting plastic bottles. It's great that they're collected, but you really have to wonder what happens to the bottles that do get collected. An island with a population of a couple of thousand, are they really processed? Is it possible worth the cost to ship or fly them elsewhere to process? I guess I'm a skeptic.
So what do we do? Mostly, try to use less. We try to make choices about the type of packaging we purchase. In Mexico, I was really excited about the paperboard boxes known as Tetra packaging, used for growing numbers of typically canned items on the shelves- everything from salsa to corn. Since we need a lot of preserved food on board for long term stores, it seemed like a great solution. No BPA, said some sources. No plastic, said others. I don't know about the BPA (and I'm suspicious of corporate messaging anyway- thanks a lot, Sigg), but the diced tomatoes we purchased have a bonded plastic lining inside.
Once again the skeptic in me looks askance.
Totem is currently anchored in a sweet little bay on Waya island, in Fiji's Yasawa group. We'll be back in "internet-land" in a few days and I can't wait to share some more upbeat tales and scenes from island life!
September 20, 2010
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.