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Small Caribbean Islands waste management: How cruisers can help?

by Don Street 1 Feb 16:58 UTC
Marine plastic pollution © RYA

Waste management is a problem for all the small islands in the Caribbean, one that only gets worse during the sailing season as hundreds of yachts a day dispose of their garbage on these tiny islands. noonsite.com

A big percentage of yachts are buying much of their groceries and items in Martinique, Grenada or Saint Lucia, but all the remaining garbage from these items is being dumped on the small islands. Most of the garbage dumps on the small islands are open-air and open to wind and outside elements that end up carrying plastics etc. into the ocean that surrounds them. Donald Street addresses this problem and gives tips on how to minimise your pollution footprint.

Yacht Garbage Disposal in the Eastern Caribbean

No proper sailor wants to pollute the ocean, but those who go to the extreme of throwing nothing overboard can end up polluting the land, as in all too many places where they take their trash ashore there is little or no recycling and solid waste disposal varies from poor to catastrophically bad. Also, bringing certain types of garbage ashore - peels from fruit and vegetables procured on other islands, for example - could introduce insects or diseases to agriculture-dependent economies, causing serious damage to the islands we visit.

In order to minimize yachts' "pollution footprint", let's get organized. Recycle your glass bottles and plastic containers whenever possible. In the galley, have three garbage receptacles: biodegradable, sinkable and plastic.

Biodegradable

All food waste should go overboard; it is biodegradable and will feed the fish. Food scraps can go overboard even in harbors, as long as the boat is between Grenada and Barbuda and the harbor is open to the west.

Between Barbuda and the Virgins, most food waste should go overboard except citrus skins and banana peels, as these items will take a month or more to biodegrade and, with the northwest flowing current, might end up on the beaches of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Thus they should be kept on board and properly disposed of ashore.

In both the US and British Virgin Islands, despite the fact that both groups of islands have a solid waste disposal problem, nothing should be thrown overboard.

Sinkable

Bottles and tin cans are sinkable. Do this only on passage in deep water, never in a harbor or near a reef. The glass will eventually turn back to sand and the tins will also disintegrate.

Knock the bottom out of the bottles with a "bottle breaker" (a stainless steel or bronze rod about 18 inches long with a sharp tip at the end). Store the bottle breaker vertically in a rack in the cockpit so it is always handy. Hold the bottle over the side through the neck, give the bottom of the bottle a sharp tap with the bottle breaker, and the bottom will come out. Toss the bottle over the side. Trying to break the bottle with a winch handle or other metal object is a recipe for blood loss.

One end of tin cans should be cut out completely, so that small fish that enter the can, cannot get trapped.

Plastic

Some garbage must be brought ashore, of course. Most importantly, plastic should not be thrown overboard under any circumstances. If food has come in plastic wrappers, rinse the wrappers in salt water and store them in a plastic bag until a port is reached where the plastic can be disposed of properly. If on a long passage, the bag that the plastic is being stored in begins to smell, pour in a drop of bleach and seal the bag tightly.

As time goes by, more crew are insisting on bottled drinking water rather than that pumped out of the on-board tank. On my last transatlantic crossing, three out of four crew demanded bottled water. The empty plastic bottles take up a lot of space. A few can be recycled in the galley for stowing substances that come in perishable or fragile containers, such as table salt from a cardboard cylinder, oil from a rusting tin, or vinegar from a glass bottle. The remainder can be crushed flat and packed for disposal ashore.

Filters from cigarette butts are absolutely not biodegradable and should not be tossed overboard; put them in with the plastic.

Every plastic item must be saved, packed in plastic bags and deposited ashore whenever you find appropriate trash receptacles. (In Bequia, these are somewhat hidden behind the vegetable market; the little bins along the waterfront are meant only for litter.) Many marinas in the Eastern Caribbean, such as Port Louis and Le Phare Bleu in Grenada and Rodney Bay in St. Lucia, now have recycling programs. Ask for them! If heading west from the Virgin Islands to the Spanish Virgins and Puerto Rico, check in St. Thomas as to the regulations in these areas.

A Note for Family Boats

Disposable diapers are an environmental curse.

If there are children on board in the diaper stage, go with the old-fashioned cloth diapers. The fish do a wonderful job of cleaning them. Only four diapers are needed: one on the baby's bottom; the second hanging overboard by a string and being cleaned by the fish; the third being rinsed in fresh water; and the fourth, having been rinsed in fresh water, hanging out to dry.

That the system works is illustrated by the fact that four Street children have been raised on Iolaire and we never used disposable diapers.

Some Green Tips

  • Inexpensive shopping bags made from recycled flour or feed sacks are sold at most local vegetable markets. Buy one or two, carry them with you for your shopping, and say "no thanks!" to plastic bags.
  • When provisioning at a major port, remove as much packaging as possible from your purchases and dispose of it there. Don't carry extra waste material to small islands that are unable to deal with it.
  • Recycle glass whenever possible. Buy beer and soft drinks in returnable bottles. Many chandleries and shops welcome clean, empty glass bottles, which they use to decant paint thinner, etc.
  • Be responsible for your own garbage. Official harbour trash-collection patrols will be well identified, but the independent agent in a dinghy or on the dock might just take your bag to the nearest quiet corner, rummage through it for items of interest and abandon it.
  • There are few, if any, beaches in the Eastern Caribbean where it is appropriate to burn yacht garbage (especially plastic, which give off fumes that are toxic to both you and the environment), so please discount this option.

For more visit Don Street's website at www.street-iolaire.com

This article has been provided by the courtesy of noonsite.com.

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