Not the cool stuff from sea shanties such as coconuts, planks from wrecked ships and half sunken treasure chests. Instead we have polystyrene and plastic bottles for water, motor oil, dishwashing detergent and any other product imaginable and plastic bags and Maggi noodle packages and coat hangers and chip packets spread out like a magic carpet on the water. Birds rest on the clumps of string and bottle caps, polystyrene cups, matted rope, plastic pails, chunks of wood, propane bottles and even a VHS movie box.
What surprises us is the number of shoes. Every clump of crap will contain a shoe or two, all shapes, sizes and colours, from a purple sandal with barnacles to a hot pink child’s Croc and a man’s work boot.
|The Malacca Strait|
This is a much more apparent situation than the Pacific Garbage Patch, which seems to be more widely known about, even though crossing through it isn't as evident. The Malacca Strait was bad, particularly when passing river mouths. The Java Sea was remarkably rubbish free which can be explained by fewer islands and less dense population but coming ashore, the story was very different. Rubbish everywhere. Even on the tiny dot of an island, Bawean, over 70nm from the next landfall, the beaches were overrun.
|Klang River, Malaysia|
We COULD smugly sit back as members of a developed nation and declare our lack of impact because we sort our recycling and would never throw a wrapper on the ground. But something we have learned on the boat is that carefully-carried-out-of-nature-piece-of-rubbish still has to go somewhere. We wouldn’t dream of throwing plastics overboard ... yet will land them ashore on a small island that likely lacks waste management infrastructure. Is our plastic Coke bottle really going to end up disposed off in a responsible way? Unlikely.
|Stream in Bawean, Indonesia|
So it has got us thinking what packaging we bring onto the boat and how we can eliminate the plastics. Even my obsession with ziplock bags has been challenged. A ziplock is so handy, waterproof(ish), airtight and can be used over and over again. Eventually, however, even with the most zealous washing and reusing, the ziplock will need to be disposed of. Alternatives such as glass and paper are not really viable on a sailing boat nor is composting. What we can do quite simply, however, is reduce our use of plastics. By taking small actions, we can bring less plastic onboard and thus less to store and dispose of.
What we do:
- We do not buy water.
- The watermaker (which we have aboard Popeye) water is great to drink and we use our cycling bottles to take water ashore when we go.
- We watch for products that are double packaged. There is often a plastic interior wrapper. We note the brands and try others.
- We shop for fruit and vegetables in the local markets using our baskets and bags. Many supermarkets require the produce to be weighed and then sealed in a plastic bag. We also buy produced packaged by nature – bananas, watermelon, dragonfruit - anything that needs peeling does not need a package.
- We try to avoid meat packaged on polystyrene trays. We just cannot bring ourselves to buy the meat at markets, un-refrigerated, flies, etc… In some supermarkets the meat is not prepackaged so you can buy bulk amounts using one plastic bag rather than a single bag per serve.
- We take our own egg cartons – eggs are purchased individually and they will be packed into a plastic bag if you haven’t a carton.
- We buy beer in cans and avoid pop/soft drinks.
- We give our used engine oil to fisherman (which they then re-use) but are yet to solve the disposal of fuel/oil/water filters
We are a far cry from perfect but now we have seen first hand the amount of trash in even remote seas, we are much more conscience of our waste. We have talked with some of the locals who have traveled outside of their community and are working to educate (some in big ways, some in small ways) those around them. This gives us hope and we would do whatever we could to help them.
This adventure has provided a huge amount of enjoyment for both of us, as well as some opportunity for self-reflection. I'm sure we can be richer for it.