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Heading Towards Zero Waste from Our Boat

by Wayfinders Now

In the past, Michael and I would’ve described ourselves as pretty environmentally-savvy. I mean, we dutifully recycle, we’ve maintained a worm compost bin in our previous apartment (Michael jokingly and lovingly named all 500+ worms), and have volunteered as stewards of an organic community garden, yadda yadda—you get the gist.

We’re all good, right?

Well, it’s only recently that we decided to take a much closer look at our habits and what we discovered is that most of our trash is comprised of packaging (mostly plastic) and food scraps.🔍😳

This was especially concerning since we’re aware that a third of our planet’s food goes to waste and it’s the single largest component in American landfills.

According to this Scientific American article, here’s what happens when this wasted food gets to our landfills: 

…it then generates methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping heat within our atmosphere. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, landfills account for 34 percent of all methane emissions in the U.S….Furthermore,…each year a quarter of U.S. water consumption and over 300 million barrels of oil (four percent of U.S. oil consumption) go into producing and distributing food that ultimately ends up in the landfills.

Because of these reasons, we’ve started reducing our use of plastic (especially the single-use kind) and reducing food waste on a more serious level (vs. assuming it’s fine if it goes into recycling or the landfill). Sometimes people refer to this as a “zero-waste” approach.

But what is “zero waste”?

One of our favorite bloggers on this subject, Kathryn from Going Zero Waste, puts it like this: “We aim to send nothing to a landfill. We reduce what we need, reuse as much as we can, send little to be recycled, and compost what we cannot.” She also emphasizes that “it’s not about perfection; it’s about making better choices .”

We appreciate her straightforward definition! Plus, we believe that tiny habits matter (whoo hoo!), so we’re aiming to reduce our food waste and use less plastic from our 35′ sailboat.

Here are some of the swaps we’ve made so far: 

*Some resources we mention may include affiliate links, but we only share stuff we believe in and hope they’re helpful, so if you decide to try out something from our posts, it just means we might receive a small kickback. 🙂
  • Reusable tote bags in lieu of using plastic grocery bags. We’ve been doing this one for a few years as we’ve conveniently garnered several, free tote bags from various events…hehe. Plus, we use totes all the time for carrying stuff to/from the boat and make sure to leave a few in our car and at home. If you need reusable grocery bags, check out the ones from the Package Free Shop, your local thrift store, or make your own.
  • Carrying a reusable water bottle instead of buying single-use plastic water bottles. You avoid the harmful chemical known as Bisphenol A (BPA) that some plastic bottles contain. We prefer the way water tastes in stainless steel water bottles like the ones made by S’well and Hydro Flask.  
  • Compostable pet bags. We love My AlphaPet bags made from corn starch (check out the difference between compostable vs. biodegradable).
  • Cloth napkins and rags vs. paper towels: This swap has already replaced our habit of using paper towels 95% of the time. According to Megean from Zero Waste Nerd, “Paper waste accounts for over 25% of total landfill waste.”
  • Reusable travel mugs in lieu of single-use cups for our beloved coffee and tea habit. We’ve been using these Contigo mugs for a couple years and they’re so well-designed and durable that they withstand breaking every time I space and drive away with the mug on top of the car (yes, this has happened more than once). 😬
  • Mason or leftover glass jars for storing produce and nuts, etc. We’ve been gradually replacing plastic tupperware with glass jars and sometimes I’ll use one to carry my breakfast when I’m on the go.  
  • Cotton muslin bags in lieu of using plastic bags in the produce section. They’re great for using at the grocery store, or as smaller to-go bags for carrying snacks and stuff. 
  • Natural deodorant. I’ve started using a deodorant packaged in a small glass jar that I really love (plus, it’s aluminum and paraben free) and it lasts a long time, but darn it, I realized the lid is made of plastic. After checking out the ingredients and finding easy ways to make them online, I’m thinking of re-using the jar and making my own deodorant next time for kicks or trying another brand (like this one) that’s truly plastic free.  
  • Toothpaste. When our current toothpaste runs out, we’re going to start making this easy homemade toothpaste recipe by Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers. Saying goodbye to plastic tubes and the possibility of harmful microbead plastics —the National Ocean Service defines them as “tiny pieces of polyethylene plastic added to health and beauty products, such as some cleansers and toothpastes.”
  • Bokashi bin for food scraps. After we did some research for easy ways to compost in small spaces, we decided to try the Bokashi approach—it’s an anaerobic fermentation process (vs. the aerobic methods) that also can handle cooked and raw food scraps, including meat, fish, small bones, and cheese. We bought a 2.2 lb bag of Bokashi starter for $13, which will probably last several months.
Instead of buying the Bokashi bucket online, we’ve been using the storage container for our dog’s food for now since it fits neatly under our navigation station area.

These swaps above were relatively simple, but this process has prompted us to pay more attention to what we’d become complacent about and to realize we can make more changes that are win-win for the environment and for our health (and often for our savings too).

Admittedly, one major weak spot for us though involves eating out. What often happens is that we’ll have leftovers, but we’re unprepared and didn’t bring our own container, so instead bring home food in to-go containers like styrofoam. 😖

We’re working on it though by bringing along our own container and keeping in mind these savvy techniques

We’ve got a ways to go, but all big changes begin with small habits, right?

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Autumn January 16, 2019 - 11:18 am

My friend just sent a link to your site because my husband, son, and I are on a similar journey. Our boat is an old fixer-upper, so we’ve spent the last year living aboard in camping conditions. Not particularly exciting yet. However, we’ve got similar goals. We want to live more naturally, less harmfully, and happier overall. I cant wait to read more of your posts!

Wayfinders Now January 19, 2019 - 8:33 am

Likewise, Autumn! We’re excited to follow your journey too. 🙂 Wishing a great year of checked-off boat projects and time for writing! Also, sorry to hear your adorable cat, Squeaky. We lost two of our cats last year. We just have our cat, Bowie (11 yrs) and dog, Kaylana (15 yrs old).

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