Minimising the creation of waste and waste disposal

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We returned from the beach where we had been burning our paper and plastic.
Looked at the mobile phone and saw that the OCC had sent me a mail including advice on "Minimising the creation of waste and waste disposal".

It stated "Beach burns are a tempting way to deal with waste when you don’t have options. But the relatively low temperatures of beach fires create toxic emissions, and not just from plastics. " 

So I felt guilty - but only briefly.

Anything written about minimizing our impact on our environment should state "do the best you can!" Ideally we would save up our plastic and deliver it to the authorities at the end of the journey. We did this for 54 days crossing the Pacific. But what do you do when the locals don't have a way of dealing with rubbish? We are on an atoll where they dig holes, throw their rubbish in and burn it. We were recently on an island where they burn everything on a big heap. Not long ago we asked the police and they told us to take it "round the back" and burn it in their bin. Recycling doesn't happen because the cost of returning glass & metal is more than the scrap value.

If life goes according to plan then we may see a bin in half a year.
So we "do the best we can".
We burn plastics as hot as we can and then bury the ash.
We smash metal as flat as we can and save glass. Both get "buried at sea" outside the 12nm limit and in over 2000 meters.

Not what the experts suggest but sometimes life isn't perfect

Philip Heaton
Philip Heaton
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Neil, Thank you for engaging with this and you raise exactly the difficulties that we cruisers face all over the world - Behan and Jamie on 'Totem', and Norma and I on 'Minnie B' have also crossed the Pacific, and had first hand experience of the problem of waste disposal in those regions.

Clearly you are trying to do something about minimising the impact of waste disposal and we are right with you on this.The burning of plastics releases toxic gases like dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (better known as BCPs) into the atmosphere. Such pollutants contribute to the development of asthma, cancer, endocrine disruption, and the global burden of disease. These pollutants travel long distances, and ultimately deposit into the ocean and polar ice caps, where they can adsorb onto other plastic marine debris and microplastics, bioaccumulating up the food chain, threatening marine and human health. 

What we are trying to get across is the need to take a different approach to waste and waste disposal that actually vastly reduces the emphasis on disposal and the possibility of recycling and shifts the focus first to waste creation and then being able to keep and contain waste until it can be disposed of safely.

We have seen the vast amounts of plastic on windward coasts of French Polynesian atolls, waded through the necklaces of plastic fringing Indonesian islands, seen the discarded plastic in Tonga, and struggled with the absence of disposal in Vanuatu, so some of us have been there with you. Indeed, where we are now, here in Sicily, waste disposal and littering are as bad as in many parts of the world.

We also know that many poor communities do not have the funds and facilities for recycling. So what to do?

We are trying to get across that the first step is prevention: decline packaging and get rid of packaging before setting sail. If product can be repacked into re-usable containers, whether boxes or bags that is good. There is much secondary plastic packaging that can be disposed of at the point of purchase.

Plastics that you carry can be cut up small and then take up very little space - there is not much plastic that might come onboard that a strong pair of scissors cannot cope with.

With glass and tins, they can be rinsed clean and the latter flattened, as you do - and, if they have been carried on passage then often they can continue to be carried until you can reach a disposal facility.

If you really do run out of space, bearing in mind that clean packaging does not smell or cause a bio-hazard, then burying the waste really is far far better than burning it - just because the local folks burn doesn't make it right, and best not to be seen to be endorsing what they do.

Hope this helps.

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