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 30.000 miles on many different vessels of which four times across the Atlantic Ocean. I learned a lot on how and how not to do things (wrote it all down in book Ocean Nomad)! I especially saw and learned about the importance and decline of the ocean! Here’s what 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.
- How to deal with waste when sailing across the ocean?
- What can you throw in the ocean overboard?
- Can you throw glass overboard in open sea?
- Can you throw cans overboard in open sea?
- Can you throw Plastic in the ocean?
- Can you throw Cigarettes in the ocean?
- Can you throw Chewing gum in the ocean?
- Can you throw cardboard and paper towels in the ocean?
- Can you throw Tea bags in the ocean?
- So how to process the waste on board when sailing?
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 already reduced your negative impact bigtime.
Now you’re out there. What to do with the waste that you are creating? Here’s Part 2, for once you’re sailing out there.
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 to the Caribbean. 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.
Can you throw glass overboard in open sea?
NO. It sinks, but never ever disappears. Yes, it’s made of sand but glass as for what we have created it would never appear in nature like it. We add things for functionality and colour. 50% – 80% of glass is recycled. This is great because it saves a lot of resources and raw materials to make glass from scratch. Leave your glass for recycling.
Can you throw cans overboard in open sea?
NO. it sinks, but cans often have a plastic coating. Also, this is a welcome material to be recycled. It does not take many resources to process aluminium 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. Looking to provision some backup water just in case? Check out the Maunawai portable water filtration system, I highly recommend for sailing and van-lifing. Here’s a review.
Can you throw Cigarettes in the ocean?
Can you throw Chewing gum in the ocean?
Can you throw cardboard and paper towels in the ocean?
If it’s untreated paper, then it’s ok to throw overboard. 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 which is a dangerous toxic for your own and the ocean’s health. 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?
Many pilots, guide books, 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 from 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. 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 the best you can to close the loop and contribute to the circular economy.
So how to 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 it overboard (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 to avoid smells and the introduction of invasive species when disposing of in a new destination. Especially meat, cheese and dairy packaging should be rinsed well.
- Once full get it out of the galley and 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). Cigarette buts can be tossed in there.
- Reuse tin cans and glass containers where you can. If you plan to go to remote islands, don’t crush them and you can make someone happy with it. In the Caribbean, it’s preferred to be delivered crushed.
- In the galley:
- Cut non recycle 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.
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 you local bookshop.
Join the conversation about what can you throw in the ocean, and sailing and sustainability with Ocean Nomads – the 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 can you throw in the ocean and processing waste on board on a sailing vessel?
Thanks for taking the time to discuss on portable garbage can, I feel strongly about this and so really like getting to know more on this kind of field.
A lot of people should read this before going to sea. I’ve seen people throw cans and glass jars over and tell me it will decompose or rust away.
Thanks Garrett! I’ve experienced much of the same. Hence, some back up information :) I hope it reaches many sailors. Don’t hesitate to spread the word :)