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The discussion comes up on every boat setting sail for the ocean. How are we going to deal with waste? What can you throw in the ocean?  Is it better to throw glass and tin in the ocean or dump it on a little island? What is actually recyclable? How to dispose waste on the other side? Are there recycling facilities in the Caribbean?

I sailed 40.000 miles on about 100 different sailing vessels, five times across the Atlantic Ocean. I learned a lot on how and how not to travel by sail. (Save time, money & situations and join my course)!

I especially saw and learned about the importance and decline of the ocean. Here are some of the things I learned in the waste department. Surely the intentions of the sailors and yachtsmen are to take best care of the environment. We all love the ocean. And we like to keep it healthy so we can keep exploring this beauty forever. We also love visiting the islands and waste management facilities may be non-existent.

What can you throw in the ocean

A common sight in the Caribbean

How to deal with waste when sailing across the ocean?

In Part 1. On Shore, I discussed ideas to minimize your footprint as a sailor while still on shore. With conscious provisioning, you have already reduced your negative impact big time.

Now that you’re out there, what should you do with the waste you are creating? Here’s Part 2, for once you’re sailing out on the ocean.

What can you throw in the ocean overboard?

  • Organics (food). This can go overboard 12 miles out of the coast. Make sure you do this well ahead before arrival. Food can bring unwanted bacteria and insects to an island and change the whole ecosystem. Fruit peels can float around for years since it doesn’t get biodegraded at sea on how it does on land.
  • Nothing else but coconut shells goes overboard. The ocean is not a dumping ground. Things might sink and go deep. It won’t be gone. So no glass, no cans, no cardboard, no cigarettes and no paper should go overboard. And definitely no plastic. Never throw anything overboard that doesn’t decompose quickly in water.

What can you throw in the Ocean?

Can you throw glass overboard in open sea?

NO. It sinks but never disappears. Yes, it’s made of sand, but glass, as for what we have created, would never appear in nature like it. We add things for functionality and colour. 50%—80% of glass is recycled. This is also great because it saves a lot of resources and raw materials that would otherwise be needed to make glass from scratch. Leave your glass for recycling.

Can you throw cans overboard in the open sea?

NO. It sinks, but cans often have a plastic coating. Also, aluminium is a welcome material to be recycled. It does not take many resources to process it into new cans, containers, or maybe even a boat! It does take a lot of resources to extract new raw materials from the earth.

I took my mermaid fins and explored the bottom of the sea. This is what it discovered:

Can you throw Plastic in the ocean?

No. no. NO! Never ever disappears.

Make sure you have a water filter on board.

Can you throw Cigarettes in the ocean?

No! Loaded with chemicals.

Can you throw Chewing gum in the ocean?

No Chewing gum is plastic.

Can you throw cardboard and paper towels in the ocean?

If it’s untreated paper, throwing it overboard is okay. If it’s white or has any sort of ink on it, it’s not ok. Almost all paper and cardboard is treated (with ink, UV coating, foils, glues, polymers). White paper towels are treated with chlorine, a dangerous toxic for your and the ocean’s health. Also, It should not go overboard. Cardboard usually has ink on it, which is a kind of plastic. This includes the label of a teabag, which is full of ink.

Can you throw Tea bags in the ocean?

No. They have plastic in it.

What can you throw in the ocean

Can you throw cans over board when sailing? Nope!

Many pilots, guidebooks, articles and sailor forums say that tins and glass jars can go overboard in deep seas. After all, they sink and are made from natural materials, right? Accordingly, many sailors do this. However, these articles are usually written from a practical perspective, not an environmental one.

Re-using and recycling can be very practical on board too.  Bottles and tins have been found in the deepest trenches ocean trenches with the brand names and logos still readable.

Considering the critical state the ocean is in, every item that does not come from the sea should not be tossed in. Glass and tins are much more valuable on land than at the bottom of the sea. Recycling uses fewer resources than extracting new materials from the ground.

These materials simply do not belong in the ocean. The ocean is not a dumping ground. So, If you wouldn’t eat it or put it on your skin, why should the living organisms in the sea have to deal with it? Your waste might sink into the deep, but it won’t be gone.

No glass, no cans, no cardboard, no cigarettes and no paper should go overboard. And definitely no plastic. Never throw anything overboard that doesn’t decompose quickly in water. Even fruit peels can take years to biodegrade at sea. They are valuable to land as compost. Do your best to close the loop and contribute to the circular economy.

 So, how do you process the waste on board when sailing?

What can you throw in the ocean? Here are some ideas on managing waste at sea:

  • 3 buckets/ containers in the galley:
    • One for organic waste. Several times a day you can throw in the Ocean (Be wind aware;)!)
    • A bag or basket for recyclables
    • If you do well the waste bucket is the last that gets full!
  • Rinse waste with saltwater when disposing of it in a new destination to avoid smells and the introduction of invasive species. Packaging, especially meat, cheese, and dairy, should be rinsed well.
  • Once full, get it out of the galley and put it into a storage container. It helps to separate plastic, tins, cardboard, and glass right away into different bags. Unfortunately, cans, bottles, and jars are not being reused but at least recycled. So far, cans and bottles are preferred crushed (Greening the Caribbean).
  • Make an ashtray (you can simply tape a bottle to the boat). You can throw cigarette buts in the Ocean.
  • Reuse tin cans and glass containers where you can. If you plan to go to remote islands, don’t crush them; you can make someone happy.
  • In the galley:
    • Cut non-recyclable plastic (film, bags and thin wrappers) into small pieces to reduce the volume. But in general, if you have place to get it on board, you have place to store it until you can dispose of it properly.
    • Have all organics dumped overboard 12 miles before arriving at the island. You don’t want to bring anything invasive into an island.

In the Ocean Nomads film: Sailing the Atlantic we share our waste management procedure on board (minute 25)

Read more about Contributing to a Healthier Ocean in Ocean Nomad, the adventure travel guide to the ocean, for the ocean. Available in colour print and e-book here, or ask your local bookshop.

Join the conversation about what can you throw in the ocean, and sailing and sustainability with Ocean Nomadsthe Global network of impact-driven ocean adventurers. We have some interesting threads going on exactly about this topic, as well as an extensive resource on Provisioning and waste management at sea.

Have you sailed across the Atlantic? Then I’d love to hear from you! I’m now updating the big Atlantic Sailing survey. Your experience will help the next passage makers for a safe and conscious passage. Check it out here.

What are your ideas on what you can throw in the ocean and process waste on board a sailing vessel?


Hi! My name is Suzanne. I'm here to help you go on ocean adventures and make positive impact for a healthier ocean. Explore this website to learn what I do and how you can make some splashes too!


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