“We are living in an interminable succession of absurdities imposed by the myopic logic
of short-term thinking.” — Jacques Yves Cousteau
People often say ‘you are what you eat.’ I can certainly resonate with that. But it’s not just that. You are also what you buy, use, put, wrap, and present yourself with. Making a difference and living sustainably is not just about having solar panels on the boat or roof (although that is a great investment to reduce reliance on fossil fuel!). Responsible living is about how you think, buy, plan and prepare, and where. Whether you go around the world or to the market around the corner, thinking ahead helps. Start questioning where things come from, how it has been made, and by who? Where do things go after we throw it ‘away’? By making a shift in our thinking, and putting our inspector hat on, we can better engineer our lives to reduce our environmental impact. The most fun and effective way to make a change is by finding out yourself. Sailing will give you that pause, to think, reflect, and plan for the way forward. Here is some food for thought.
Do you need to go shopping? If so, do you need to buy new clothes, gadgets and gear? Take over second-hand, borrow from the neighbour, save resources and things from the trash pile. Buying a new ‘eco’ car is often not more environmentally friendly than using one that already has been produced.
Who do you give your money to? Do you help Mr. Supermarket CEO finance his second boat or are you bringing benefits directly to a family by shopping locally? Help to shorten the supply chain, which reduces transportation energy cost, use of packaging, and increases nutritional value, and benefits for those down at the bottom. Support the small entrepreneurs and go against mass consumerism. We live in a demand-driven society. Help the good brands, those without lobbying power and big advertisement budgets, to climb the ladder. Support the local coconut art and straw hats in the Caribbean. This is art that doesn’t harm the environment. As opposed to jewelry made from turtles, corals or sharks.
“We live on a planet where pigs eat more fish than sharks and where the domestic house cat eats more fish than all of the seal in the North Atlantic Ocean.”
— Captain Paul Watson
Where does your food come from? Do you know its source? The source is not the supermarket. It’s the soil and the water that determines the quality of the food. Rethink food recommendations. Who sponsors the food advice you’re reading? Is there maybe a financial gain involved? Do you know what’s in your processed food? Would your grandma say it’s food? Consider and explore alternatives for the sake of your own and the planet’s health.
How much waste do you generate each week? What is it? Food, packaging, paper? How much of that could you refuse, reduce, reuse or recycle? We all still use plastic bags, but not because we want them. We know it’s not the way to go by now. We simply forget to bring reusable bags in the first place. Before you purchase something packaged in plastic, consider if you need it. If there’s a different option, choose the one where you can reuse the packaging and don’t have to toss it away. For example, take a toothbrush. With let’s say eight toothbrushes per year, in a life of 30 years brushing my teeth I have thrown ‘away’ 240 toothbrushes (as well as the plastic wrappers they are packed in)! And that’s just me! I can circle an ocean-worthy boat with that! Be creative and inventive. See what you can reuse, borrow, swap, buy second-hand or make yourself. Every piece of plastic ever made is still out there in some form. If you throw plastic away, there is no ‘away.’ We all have a desire for convenience. We organise a BBQ and can just throw the dishes away. It may save a few minutes of your time. But the effects of it cost us greatly. We do take-away but what do we do with the (often styrofoam) box it’s delivered in? We order online and have another plastic taped box. We opt for one-time usage products like tampons, diapers, straws, bags and bottles because it’s convenient, or the advertisement has made us believe it’s convenient. We don’t even know what’s the alternative because we accept things as they come. Our system makes it difficult to make sustainable choices because money drives our society. Think about the journey things make before it arrives into your hands. What choices can you make to reduce the number and impact of those journeys? Not only plastic items make their impact. Glass, metals, wood, coal are also resources used to produce things. What can you do to reduce energy demands?
Another big waste is food. In the western world, an estimated one-third of the food we buy, we throw away. What a waste. How can we plan smarter than that? Here’s something fun to try: Aim to continue seeing the bottom of the garbage bin (put the organics separately if you don’t do so yet). How long can you manage?
Toogoodtogo is a cool app where you can pick up food at the end of the day before they throw it away.
Rethink the past
Before the 1960s the world was doing fine without plastics. There simply was no such thing as a plastic bag, diaper or shoe. Since then, it has found its way into every corner of our society. We have to think about alternatives that work. And support those accordingly. Think, what would your grandmother do?
‘Eco,’ ‘sustainable’, ‘organic’ or ‘green’ have become fashion words. In most countries, anyone can put that on there, and it can legitimately be sold. Question advertising messages. These messages are created for the purpose of selling, not saving the planet. Certifications are a step in the right direction but don’t just take certified products for granted either. When a brand is a certified B-Corporation, it’s using business as a force for social, environmental, and economic good, which is a positive step forward. Nevertheless, read labels, read stories, and ask questions. Advertisers are smart, and they know how to find you at the right spot.
Rethink the investment
Sometimes organic is more expensive. Realise that it’s only expensive in the short term. In the long run, it will be healthier for you, our children, and the planet because the soil is preserved and not damaged with harmful pesticides, herbicides and insecticides for the sake of volume and price. As much as you and I may live on a budget, cheaper is not always better. By supporting organic producers, we keep them in business, enabling them to bring more purity to the consumer and keep our soils healthy for the future. Also fun, invest in some seeds and basic materials and start growing food and making cosmetics yourself!
Rethink on what matters
For whom are you doing what you’re doing? And why? What are the consequences of what you eat/drink/buy/do/plan for/work for, for the next ten minutes, ten months, ten years and 100 years? What impact do those actions make on yourself, our children, and the world as a whole? Instead of spending money, time and effort in keeping consumerism going, what can you do at the core? Work harder to earn more money so that you can buy organic (which unfortunately is often more expensive)? Or instead, use your time creating solutions and advocate to ban harmful practices, subsidize organic farmers to make it less expensive? Money, fun and ‘owning’ stuff are all temporary. Our impact will last beyond our lifetimes, so we better make it a good one!
“The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them. — Albert Einstein
Thoughts become actions. What can you do?
An easy action we can take is to refuse single-use plastic. This is plastic that is used one time only. The most troublesome part of the plastic challenge is the magnitude of plastics we only use for a few minutes to eat, carry stuff, and take away. These single-use items have an average life span of 15 minutes and then are thrown ‘away.’ Only there is no such thing as ‘away.’ Where’s away? Eventually the ocean. 50% of the plastic problem in the ocean is disposable plastic like plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway containers, cups and straws. This is a relatively easy problem to tackle. We don’t need single-use plastic. Pro-actively say NO. With your drink order, ask for no straw. Show up with your reusable straw. Refuse to accept a plastic or paper cup at the coffee machine or water cooler. With your shopping, say no to the plastic bag. Stay, don’t take away; have your coffee or lunch on the spot. You can save a plastic item and have a nice chat! Refusal is easier in some countries than others—especially in developing countries you need to be equipped to be able to refuse. Be prepared and bring your reusable items.
Refuse to buy cosmetics with plastic ingredients. Common ingredients are polyethene and polypropylene, polyethene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), and nylon (PA)—and dozens more complicated plastic names are out there. These words are impossible to remember. Thankfully there is a great app to help. Use “Beat the Microbead”, to check if your mascara, shower gel, toothpaste or sunscreen use plastic ingredients. Learn more at BeattheMicrobead.com.
Refuse to accept that ‘it’s just the way it is’—it may used to be. Now we know more, have developed more, it doesn’t have to be.
Refuse to eat fish that are overexploited or endangered and explain why to the vendor or restaurant owner. Shark, whale, and bluefin tuna are still commonly found on the menu.
Our greatest and most exciting individual power: the power of choice! To a large degree, we can choose what to eat, drink, wear, believe, say, do, create, and buy. We can choose with whom to play, talk, sail, date, marry. Each choice comes with its consequences, good or bad. With an abundance of options in everything these days it’s sometimes hard to choose, isn’t it? Do your best with whatever choice you make it’s a good one for you and the ocean! Not sure what the best option is? Explore, discover, learn, and then choose.
Fix things. Develop your handyman skills and try to fix whatever it is that broke. Or if it’s out of your league look for a handy man near you. Join the fixing process so next time you can do it yourself. Lots of spare parts available on the second-hand market places.
To be 100% is super tough (for now!), but we can drastically reduce our usage. A few ideas to get you started:
Reduce plastic use
Choose products made from natural fibres and materials. Immense amounts of crude oil and chemicals are used to produce plastic, polyester, nylon and other synthetic materials for your backpack, clothes, and technical gadgets. Not to mention the amount of waste generated. . . . All sorts of plastics with complicated names exist: polyethylene terephthalate (PET) (bottles are made from this), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) (the garden hose, vinyl plates, pipes and fake ‘leather’ shoes are made from this), polystyrene (Tupperware is made from this), polymethyl methacrylate (windows are made from this), nylon (our clothes), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE/Teflon—the famous non-sticky pans)—they are all plastic!
Place a filter in your washing machine. Did you know that with every wash of a synthetic cloth item, thousands of fibres end up in our waterways? I’m not even talking about the chemical colouring techniques (and labour efforts) used to produce our clothing. Synthetic (read: plastic) fibres act as a sponge for metals and chemicals. Fish see this as plankton, and the toxin-loaded fibre stays in the fish for months. Alternatives can include (organic!) cotton, hemp, bamboo, or eucalyptus. Learn more about this challenge on Life-Mermaids.eu.
Particularly in the cosmetics department, we can reduce a lot on plastic waste. Almost all toiletries, like shampoo, toothpaste, or sunscreen, come in plastic packaging and are thrown ‘away’ once finished. Save yourself and the ocean from toxins and plastic pollution. Buy natural shampoo in bulk bottles, get a block of soap instead of the liquid stuff. Or even better, make your own toothpaste, shampoo, moisturiser, facial cleaner or mosquito spray. Choose a hairbrush, hair ties, toothbrush and razor all made from other materials than plastic.
Bring your own toothpicks. In many restaurants, toothpicks are individually wrapped in plastic. Be prepared and bring your own. Pine needles work great too:)
Source food from places that use less packaging, like the local market or even better, grow your own.
Filter water (with a filter on your tap or with a reusable water bottle)
Bring your own bag, spoon, cup, and bottle, and keep saying no!
If you order online, kindly request the sender to use as little packaging as possible, and without plastic tape. Demand minimal or better no packaging in general wherever you go. Buy from sellers located close to you to avoid a package going from a plane to a ship, to a ferry, to a truck, around the world.
Reduce resources use
Cut down on power. Reduce your own carbon footprint by sourcing locally. Walk, bike, hike, share rides, take public transport, turn off the lights when not in use, switch to more efficient light bulbs, reduce airplane trips, reduce meat and fish intake, and waste less food. And hitch-sail the Atlantic Ocean where you must be very conservative with the resources you have on board. After this journey, you’ll treat every drop of water like gold.
Reduce the amount of paper you consume. Read online newspapers, brochures, blogs, e-books. Say no to the receipt at the ATM. Do you need a receipt for everything you buy? The paper is often bleached, and the ink is plastic. Paper often ends up with organics further polluting the soil. Save a tree so more carbon can be absorbed; keep it digital.
A significant impact we can make is to reduce the number of babies we’re making. Researchers calculated a reduction of 58 tons of CO2 for each year of a parent’s life, as compared to 2.4 tons by living car free, 0.21 through recycling, and 1.60 for a roundtrip Atlantic flight. This study is based on people living in the Western world, consuming as an average westerner.
Reduce buying new things. Our resources are finite.
Reduce the chemicals
Cleaning products, cosmetic products and plastic products are often loaded with toxins, harmful for the ocean, and yourself. Why use them?
The average sunscreen has lots of chemicals affecting corals, fish, and your own health. Some tourism destinations (for example Bonito in Brazil, and Palau in the Pacific) even prohibit sunscreen to protect nature since this product has already negatively affected the natural state of the destination. It’s that destructive! Using biodegradable sunscreen is not only better for the environment, but it’s also much better for you. Ingredients that are found to be biggest hormone disruptors are oxybenzone and octinoxate, and homosalate, octisalate, and octocrylene). So, what to do? Do everything else right before applying sunscreen in the first place. Protect yourself from the sun with a cap, and clothing. Use sunscreen only when you have to. More and more biodegradable sunscreens are available on the market. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are working ingredients that are more ocean and human-friendly alternative. Finding one that does not come in plastic is the biggest challenge! Or just make your own.
Shampoo, soaps, and lotions
How many words do you see on the back of your shampoo that you can’t even pronounce? Google them and educate yourself. All the fragrances, chemicals and other stuff the big corporations put into our shampoo, shower gel, makeup, and mosquito spray may smell great but are loaded with harmful toxins that end up in our waterways and bodies. We often assume that if it’s on the shelves or if it says ‘natural’, it should be okay, right? It’s not. The cosmetic industry is shockingly little regulated. Luckily there are many real natural cosmetics out there. They are only not penetrated into the big supply chains. You could get a block of soap instead of the liquid stuff. Or even better, make your own toothpaste, shampoo, sunscreen, facial cleaner or mosquito spray.
What about aggressive cleaning products? They work so well! Aside from the residue that stays on the floor where you walk or on the galley counter where you put your food, we just wash it down. Where does it go then? The ocean! With a combination of vinegar, baking soda and cold pressed plant oils, we can clean almost anything!
Many outdoor brands produce clothing with PFCs, a highly toxic chemical which has now been found in the highest snow peaks, waterways and ocean. Check detox-outdoor.org to learn how green or pollutive your favourite outdoor brand is.
Reduce the trash pile
Our world is filling up with trash at an exponential rate. I can’t even be sure if that water bottle floating around the ocean wasn’t formerly used by me! Either way, the planet is everyones. Everyone should take care. Reduce plastic in the ocean by helping clean up. The ocean is downhill from everything. Wind and water ways bring it in. If you see it on the ground, take the opportunity to pick it up, preventing it from ending up in the oceans.
A few initiatives to make cleaning up more fun, easy and impactful:
- Take3forthesea. Collect three trash pieces every day you go out and play. Tim Silverwood sailed through the great Pacific garbage patch and realised something had to be done! He founded #Take3fortheSea with a simple message: take three pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach, waterway, or . . . anywhere. If you do this every day, you can save thousands of pieces of trash from ending up at sea. Simple but impactful. Imagine what we can accomplish if everyone does this. Learn more at Take3.org.
- Join a beach clean-up or organise one! Check #CleanSwell on social media for inspiration.
- Document what and where you find.
- Become a Trash Hero (TrashHero.org)
- Order your ‘Trash Hunter Kit’ and help to identify where it comes from in the first place. Who are the producers and who are the polluters? Learn more at TrashHunters.org.
- Join the Ocean Nomads crew. Lot’s of initiatives already going and more to come!
As we have already learned, the problem with plastic waste is that it doesn’t go away. Before you toss something away at all, perhaps the item can serve another purpose?
Packaging is a big waster. Reuse packaging when you can. Reuse the peanut box, pill jar, spice pots, or zip-lock cereal bags to store other items. Old pill jars are especially useful when travelling. Reuse plastic bags as garbage bags.
To be able to refuse plastic, you should be equipped with something you can reuse. We can all make a huge difference by being prepared with reusables. Going to a friend’s BBQ party where ‘throw away’ is usually the norm’? Bring your own cutlery, plate, cup and straw. You will surely make an entrance, and it’s a great conversation starter. Make it a habit of bringing your reusables items wherever you go. By being well-prepared, you can avoid ‘having’ to accept hundreds of plastic items. Hit the road with a spoon, fork, knife (or spork), straw, bag, cup, a storage container for takeaway, refillable bottle and filtered bottle.
Access to drinkable tap water might be normal at home, but in many countries buying plastic bottled water has become the norm. It already makes a great difference to have a reusable drinking bottle with you all the time. At home, at your office, and especially during your travels. If you don’t like the taste of tap water, put a filter on it. This might be the best investment for your health too. In addition to a refillable bottle, a filter- jug, -bottle or -straw can be a lifesaver. Especially on boats on during travels where portable refill options are rare. With a filtered water bottle, I can scoop water from the dirtiest river and drink it. I can drink water from any tap or source (except for salty water). Using a filter bottle has saved me from adding hundreds of plastic bottles to the trash pile, in just one month! The market has plenty of different filter bottles, jugs and straws available. Here’s a blogpost on different travelfirendly water filtration solutions.
In many western countries, you now have to pay 10 cents for a plastic bag. In the developing world, you have to say NO 10 times to avoid them. Bring a bag or two whenever you go shopping. If you do end up with a plastic bag in your hands, re-use it, for as long as you can.
The plastic straw is in the top six of single use plastics found in the ocean. It’s a routine add-on in most of the world. By proactively showing up with your reusable straw you can say no to many plastic ones. This is especially great when you are in a coconut or cocktail country! Many options are out there: stainless steel, bamboo, glass and silicon. Heck, you can even use the branch of a papaya tree as a straw. Using my stainless steel straw has saved me hundreds of plastic ones. And have given me dozens of awareness raising conversations! Make it a habit. Here is a blog on reusable straws.
For the parents
An average baby uses seven diapers a day. Assuming the little one is potty-trained by age two—that’s over 5,000 diapers! After newspapers and packaging, diapers are the largest disposable item in our trash pile. Did you know that disposable diapers also have plastic in them? Every single disposable diaper ever used is still out there. The poo may be organic, but most diapers are not. Get some cool shark, dolphin, star or coconut printed cloth diapers, saving money, energy, toxins and waste. And your kid will look super cool in his unique outfit.
For the girls
Women use an estimated 11,000 tampons or sanitary pads in a lifetime. The average pad contains as much plastic as four carrier bags. Most tampons contain plastic. Most tampons are bleached. We don’t consciously eat plastic or bleach. Why would we want to put it in our bodies? And waterways? We can reduce plastic and chemicals in our ocean, and save a lot of money by choosing alternatives. What’s a better solution? A reusable menstruation cup or pad. You can insert it like a tampon, you can still climb masts and dance-like with a tampon—but you only need one. You can reuse it, over and over again. Try it! Please ditch the tampon—and if you really can’t, at least use the organic tampons.
Blog & Video: What’s in my zero waste travel kit?
Even if you dispose of your waste correctly, you never know where it will end up, so recycle where you can even before generating the waste. Compared to making a new plastic product, recycling uses less water, fossil fuel and resource extraction. But don’t forget, plastic can only be down-cycled. A bottle can never be a bottle again.
I’m talking a lot about plastic here, but another type of product with huge environmental impact is tech gear. It’s called e-waste. Bring your old tech stuff to dealers that can use the parts. Or sell it. Apple has a recycling program, as well as most other tech brands. Please don’t just throw it ‘away.’
Products made from recycled-something are often better than new. It helps to create awareness, but, it’s not the solution! Eventually, it will still add to the trash pile.
Rethink, refuse, reuse, reduce, rechoose, repair recycle . . .
Above all, make it fun!
We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly. – Zero Waste Chef
From ocean adventure comes awareness. From that, comes caring. From caring comes action and leadership. We can only do good if we first hand experience the magic of the seas as well as the realities that the oceans are facing in the first place. Ocean adventure can spark new insights and give one a new set of eyes. It makes us more conscious as consumers. It makes us stronger, more confident, resilient. It makes new leaders. Maybe Ocean leaders!
This blogpost is an excerpt from the bonus section of book Ocean Nomad: the hitchhike guide to the oceans. Jump on an ocean adventure and experience the magic and challenges for yourself.