A little over a week ago, a reader named MaryJo left the following comment on the article about “Avoiding Critters:”
“I’m confused about the whole cardboard thing. Everybody says “don’t bring cardboard on the boat,” but lots of things, like facial tissues and boxed wine come in cardboard. I can’t take those items out of their boxes. Please clarify. Thanks!”
I wrote her a few lines about getting rid of as much cardboard as possible, but then I found myself thinking about her question more and more. I realized that this had been one of my big questions when we first moved aboard Que Tal, and that I hadn’t found many answers and had just sort of fumbled my way along.
So, after making a big trip to the grocery, I made a list as I unloaded my purchases. How exactly did I get rid of almost all of the cardboard?
I’ll be honest — there are a few bits of cardboard that still make their way aboard, but I get rid of an awful lot of it!
- Little bottles in boxes: Things like vitamins, vanilla extract and so on are pretty easy — just take the little bottle or jar out of the box it came in.
- Blister packs: These seem easy — just take the item out of the package. BUT be sure to check if you need directions off the box (with small tubes, you often can’t read the directions on the tube) and either copy them down or cut them out and keep them. Depending on the item, we may tape the instructions to the item or put both the item and directions into a small resealable plastic bag.
- Hygiene products: A number of these come in boxes. You’re actually a lot better off to store them in resealable plastic bags to keep moisture (drips or leaks in particular) from getting to your supply. But I’d usually just take the box on the boat (for modesty reasons), transfer the contents to bags, then quickly get the boxes back off the boat.
- Pet food (in bags or boxes): I take the box or bag on board and transfer the contents to a good plastic container with a locking lid and get rid of the bag or box immediately. Read more about storing pet food.
- Soda, beer and other canned drinks in cases: I get rid of any box and just put the cans in bags to carry aboard the boat.
- Wine: If it’s in a case, remove the bottles and leave the cardboard in the trash ashore. For boxed wine that has a “plastic bag” bladder inside a box, I remove the bladder from the box and leave the box ashore (you can tell this type of box/bladder usually by the fact that it has a fancy push-button pouring mechanism). You can put the bladder(s) in a solid plastic storage bin to keep them from wearing a hole, and it’s really not that hard to pour a glass from one (also read a great idea from a reader on how to easily make a plastic wine box). If you buy several different varieties of wine — other than just one red and one white — be sure to use a permanent marker to label them.
- Tetra Paks: Tetra Paks are what we think of as “juice boxes” although lots of other things come in them — boxed milk, wine, even some veggies and fruits (instead of cans). Tetra Paks are specifically designed for long term storage of the contents and you shouldn’t try to repackage the item.
- Trash bags and plastic bags: These often come in a roll inside a cardboard box. I take the roll out and put it in a plastic grocery bag or other container and throw the cardboard away before it even gets on the boat. See more about this.
- Aluminum foil, wax paper: I’ve never found a good alternative to just leaving these in their boxes.
- Toilet paper and paper towels: Yes, there’s a cardboard tube in the center. No, I’ve never figured out how to avoid it. The best I can suggest is to check various brands and choose the rolls with the most sheets. This will save a lot of storage space, too, as some brands of toilet paper are extremely loosely rolled in foreign countries. I’ve seen some with only 60 sheets per roll at the same time I’ve bought rolls with 500 sheets! As a side note, we tended to use a few pieces of TP as a replacement for Kleenex, so we didn’t have the boxes on the boat.
- Rice, Pasta and Couscous: These often come in boxes. I take them on board in the box, and immediately transfer them to a plastic storage container and cut the directions out of the box and tape them to the container. Then the box gets taken ashore immediately.
- Cereal: Most cereal comes in a plastic bag inside a box and I pull the bag out of the box and leave the box ashore. Sometimes, you can buy cereal that’s just in a resealable plastic bag, which eliminates the box problem and is often cheaper.
- Crackers: Most boxes have plastic bags inside and I take the bag and leave the box. With both cereal and crackers, I put a bunch of the bags together in one storage bin in a location where heavy stuff can’t fall on top of it. For crackers that come in waxed paper sleeves, I put several together in one resealable plastic bag or they’ll quickly pick up moisture in the air and get stale.
- Box mixes. Again, most have liners. I either write the directions on the inner bag or cut them out of the box, then put the liner and instructions inside a resealable plastic bag (along with a bay leaf as protection against weevils). Be sure to label the contents!
In addition to all the galley stuff, also beware of cardboard from other sources and try to reduce as much as you can. Things like spare or replacement parts, tools, galley equipment, and gadgets all tend to come with cardboard. Sometimes, though, we just didn’t want to get rid of it: either we needed to keep the packaging in case we needed to return the item, or in some cases, the box and packaging were really the best way to store spare parts.
In those cases, if the item was small enough, we put the whole thing in a resealable plastic bag (or vacuum sealed it), figuring that if there was no fresh air or food, any critters in the cardboard would soon die. Some larger items, like our spare bilge pump, we couldn’t do anything about . . . we just accepted the fact that we had some cardboard.
Even though it’s not “cardboard” per se, we also learned to watch out for books from book exchanges that didn’t have a lot of turnover. More than once, they were serving as homes to numerous bugs. We learned to put them in a plastic bag and give them a squirt of bug spray, then leave them in the bag in the cockpit overnight. With more and more boats carrying their books digitally — on a Kindle or iPad, for example — this might be less of a problem for some (those with e-readers) and more of a problem for others (as print books sit longer in exchanges with fewer people reading them).