It’s not easy being completely sustainable on a motor yacht that holds 1000 gallons of marine diesel fuel. Believe me, we wrestle with the paradox of using a fossil-fuel powered vessel while doing what we can to help the planet.
We’ve been driving a Tesla since 2016 (another goal Tom planned & worked to achieve, using the picture-on-the-mirror principle) and are eagerly awaiting that day when yachts run on electric power, too. (And the day batteries for these systems become more sustainable, environmentally and socially-just, too.)
It’s happening with more and more companies, products, and people finding ways towards better fossil-fuel-free solutions. For yachts, it’s in the making and one company even has a stunning electric catamaran on the market. It takes time, but for boats like Tangaroa, it’s not quite here yet.
So, we try to be as eco-conscious and sustainable in other areas as best we can. That means limiting single-use plastics, using non-toxic & environmentally-friendly products, and finding products that don’t use excessive packaging.
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need million of people doing it imperfectly.”
Remember the refrain, “reduce, reuse, recycle?” Easy. First, try to reduce the amount of waste you have. Then, reuse what you can and give it a second life. Finally, recycle any items that you can’t reuse. But a lot of plastics can’t be recycled, or cities just don’t have the facilities to do so. Plus, plastic never truly goes away – it just eventually degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. We need to retrain ourselves to think about how we use plastic, and other items that are wasteful and harmful in one way or another.
One day, I took all the plastic bottles in our bathrooms and put them together. Liquid soaps, shampoos & conditioners, liquid bath gels. Wow! Look how much single-use plastic we had at home:
Hence, “the 6 R’s” – rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle (repair, if possible, and compost, or “rot” to end a product – that can be composted, lifecycle).
Honestly, it’s not easy. Inasmuch as it would be wonderful to live a zero-waste lifestyle, whether at sea or on land, we find that, realistically, it is nigh impossible. While plastic bags or containers on some grocery items really bothers Beth, she tries not to stress over every item.
STEP #1 is to rethink what we’re buying or using, especially if it’s something in single-use plastic. It’s so easy & convenient (and generally pretty inexpensive) to just grab something in a bottle. But stop and think for a moment: do you really need that item? Is there something else, not encased in plastic, that will do the job? Becoming aware of your habits and how you use products is the first step in the process.
In STEP #2, we refuse disposable items. Whether it’s straws, or produce & grocery bags, food wrapped in plastics or other options, if it’s possible to do so, refuse it. Shop with intention & integrity. You can also refuse items because you don’t like what the company stands for, be it labor practices, environmental irresponsibility, use of chemicals in products, etc.
One thing important to Beth is shopping not from giant box or online stores, if possible, but supporting small and often family-run businesses that have a strong environmental & socially-just operating policy. It might cost more for certain products, but she feels better supporting real people rather than huge corporations.
Here are some of her favorite companies whose mission, products, and customer support she likes:
After you rethink & refuse, STEP #3 is to reduce your waste output. If we can reduce our plastic use, we look for options to do so. It can be a fun challenge! Here’s an example: After buying some nice beeswax wraps from a craft shop in New Zealand, Beth decided to make her own. Rather than use plastic wrap for fruits, veggies, cheese, or lids in the fridge, she uses her beeswax cloths. A number of companies make these (just Google “beeswax wraps”). If you wonder why they seem expensive, Beth discovered that they are really labor intensive to make! But fun!
Beth is really good at STEP #4, which is to reuse items. Some of the food containers in our galley, for example, are a decade old. They still work fine. There were no reasons to buy new ones. It doesn’t take but a few moments to clean out a container to reuse over and over. Bread that comes in plastic bags or the interior bag from cereal boxes – those become trash bags for wet stuff when we can’t throw food scraps overboard. Rather than use a big plastic garbage bag for a few days worth of trash, Beth just uses one of these small bags. Plastic baggies get reused until they wear away. For the first time in perhaps 9 years, Beth bought a new box of plastic sandwich bags. It created some anxiety for her to do so, but sometimes we just need them (like for wrapping meat & fish, which can’t be wrapped in beeswax). She managed to find some that are partially made from recycled plastic. And a box of 50 will last her another decade!
For STEP #5, try to repurpose items. We’ve had plastic items around the house for ages, such as the little trays to separate stuff in office drawers. Rather than buy new trays for the boat, Beth brought those along and they are now repurposed as useful storage items on Tangaroa. When she uses a glass jar of something in the galley, like spaghetti sauce, she cleans it out, takes off the label, and uses that jar for storage.
Finally, for STEP #6, if possible, recycle the item. (Another R to consider, if you have something that needs mending, is to repair it before tossing it and buying a new one). Inasmuch as it would be great to have a zero-waste lifestyle, it is quite difficult to do so. We try to minimize waste as much as possible, but what we can’t fit into the 6 R’s we recycle.
Packaging means paper, too. So much of our paper products that we use without a thought are thrown away: toilet paper, paper towels, tissues (much of which are wrapped in plastic). Tens of thousands of trees every single day are cut down to make these items. Don’t you ever wonder where all the paper in those endless stacks of fluffy toilet paper at Costco originates? We’re finding ways to minimize our impact on forest resources by sourcing alternative-paper products for use aboard Tangaroa.