Trash can easily get out of control on a boat — there just isn’t much space for it. The best way to reduce trash on the boat is to think about the trash your provisioning choices will generate. If you’re a beer drinker, for example, empty cans can be crushed while bottles can’t – and that’s a considerable saving in space.
The longer we have cruised, the more I have considered packaging in my provisioning choices. I considered not just how much trash a particular item would generate, but whether I could get rid of some of that trash before we even left port – or better yet, before I even took it aboard.
Here are ten ways that I reduce the trash on our boat.
- For things that have to be stored in a container – say tuna or mayonnaise – you can often buy them in pouches instead of cans or jars. The pouches can be totally flattened when empty and take up almost no space. Buying wine in boxes – either Tetra Paks or pouches inside cardboard boxes — produces far less trash volume than bottles.
- If something comes in a cardboard box, see if there is an inner liner so that you can get rid of the cardboard before taking the item to the boat (be sure to save any directions). That inner liner will crumple up into just a small ball, whereas a box will take quite a bit more space to store when emptied – even if you break it down and flatten it. Two other advantages of getting rid of the cardboard and only taking the liner aboard are that it will take less space to stow and the cardboard won’t provide a home for bugs.
- With canned food, see if you’ll be able to remove the bottom of the can with a can opener – if so, you’ll be able to totally flatten the can. Many cans now have integrated bottoms that can’t be removed and they’re harder to completely flatten.
- When possible, choose cans over plastic jars or bottles and plastic over glass – they can be flattened more completely. (Not to mention less likely to break!)
- Tetra paks – those boxes that juice and many other things come in, including “canned” vegetables and sauces – can be totally flattened when empty. Another advantage of them is that they are square and pack tightly together when stowing, unlike round cans. Unfortunately, they cannot be burned and few places can recycle them.
- Does one of several options come in a container that you can re-use for another purpose? For example, I chose which brand of juice I bought for several months to collect enough of the “perfect size” bottles to use as small storage bins (with the tops cut off) in a particular locker. On another occasion, I chose my laundry soap by which bottle would work to make a dinghy bailer. Using it for something else is one of my favorite ways to reduce trash on our boat!
- In many places outside the US, eggs are sold individually and NOT in cartons. When you’re in a big city, buy your eggs in a Styrofoam carton and you’ll be able to reuse it many times (cardboard ones can harbor bugs and so should not be saved and re-used).
- Be wary of “resealable” containers that aren’t. Many packages say they are resealable, leading you to think that you won’t have to put the contents in a Ziploc once opened. They are usually a little larger than non-“resealable” containers, but you figure that it’ll be a smaller volume of trash in the long run. The problem is that the seal on many “resealable” pouches just isn’t up to multiple openings – or moving around with the motion of a boat. They’ve almost always failed on me and I’ve ended up having to use a Ziploc in addition to the larger original package. And that means a larger total volume of trash than if I’d planned to use in Ziploc in the first place!
- Look to see how much of the packaging can be left ashore – what looks to be more packaging may end up being less that actually has to go on the boat.
- Is it an item that can be quickly re-packaged aboard the boat so that the “big” packaging can be discarded ashore before leaving? A jar of peanuts, for example, can quickly be dumped into a Ziploc. Meat can be taken off its Styrofoam tray and put in a bag or vacuum-sealed.
I realize that the last two suggestions may not be considered the best choice from an environmental standpoint. Yes, we should reward manufacturers who use fewer resources (#9) and we shouldn’t create additional trash in the long run just because we don’t like how something is packaged (#10). But the reality is that sometimes in cruising, we have to make choices based on what actually works.