No. 2 in our series of Sustainability questions and answers by Gemma @SeastainableYachting 

Sustainability Musings; 

A new month, a new column. A new (improved) future, perhaps, already?

The last month has seen a splash of positivity, with the world returning slowly to a somewhat new normal. The increasing vaccinations and lockdowns slowly lifting in some areas are providing light at the end of a long tunnel. Now, let’s hope it also brings the urgency of sustainability agendas and plans into practice. 

In sustainable yachting news this month, I can’t help but notice the increasing stream of eco-friendly news coming into the limelight. With the IMO roadmap for a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, this is hardly surprising. There seems to be a seismic shift towards sustainable builds and if others aren’t working to do the same, they will be left behind. It is great to see various shipyards churning out yachts with a difference, whether that be greener propulsion, eco-friendly antifouling or sustainable interior designs, the design and build process is certainly making waves. 

So, how about onboard? We all know that to change existing processes and practices is a lot harder than a blank canvas to work from, but there is still hope. Seastainable’s contact form responses are increasing by the day, with lots of yacht crew coming round to the idea of implementing sustainable changes onboard. Our latest resource is one for the HOD’s, helping them make changes at a departmental level. 

The P Word 

This month, I want to address that ‘P’ word, our global plastic problem. Whilst I don’t want this to be a regurgitation of scary stats and mind-blowing statistics, I will start by pointing out a few to put it into perspective. 

A garbage truck full of plastic is thrown into the ocean every minute, every piece of plastic ever made still exists, 9 million tonnes enter the ocean every year, and finally, this is the one that as an avid scuba diver hits home – there will be more plastic than fish by 2050. 

Plastic is literally, everywhere. 

Its life continues after its use on our planet, it permeates the soil and ends up in our oceans and ecosystems. It is one of the most pressing environmental issues, the debate surrounding plastic is fast-growing but unfortunately, it hasn’t seemed to have made a dent in the amount produced, used and then discarded. 

Whilst speaking to a family friend (of the older generation) recently they pointed out that ‘but quite simply, plastic transformed our world’ – the convenience level is indisputable. So, yes, plastic did transform the modern age, it revolutionised medicine, provided equipment for clean drinking water, it has saved lives through various medical equipment however this convenience factor has unfortunately led to this throwaway culture. And, therein lies the problem, its persistent lifespan, like a bad smell, it never leaves. 

So what even is it?

Plastic is simply a common term to describe a wide range of synthetic materials, belonging to the polymer family. All plastics are also oily, which means 90% of virgin plastic are made from oil – not only are we making more of the stuff that never leaves, we are making it from fossil fuel. There isn’t a one size fits all with plastic either, there are various types, 7 to be precise. 

If it isn’t bad enough that it’s mounting up, it is also spilling into our oceans at a horrifying rate. The harm to marine life is unfathomable, impacting through choking, starving and poisoning. Most of the plastic pollution is in our oceans, making it near on impossible to retrieve it. Not only does it stay forever, but it also breaks down into tiny pieces, producing microplastics. The worlds seafloor is filled with over 14 million tones of microplastics. These can be found in drinking water and throughout our food chain, and in today’s Covid world, around 80% of hand sanitisers actually contain microplastics. 

But we can just recycle our way out of it right?

Wrong. Every year more than 400 million tones of plastic waste is produced globally, whilst that is pretty scary in itself, scarier is the fact that only 9% of it is recycled. Quite simply, plastic is hard to recycle and not all of it is even recyclable. Every time is plastic is recycled the polymer chain grows shorter, decreasing its quality. Recycling has become something of a minefield, and would call for another column or perhaps even a whole website about what you can recycle in one country versus another. A simple global unified recycling system would be a yachties dream but unfortunately, we still dream. 

What about the alternatives?

Biodegradable and compostable plastics are expected to break down in 6 months, which sounds a lot better than nothing however some of these plastics need industrial composting, meaning exposure to extremely high temperatures. Therefore these alternatives are unable to breakdown naturally if found in the ocean. A lot of biodegradable plastics cannot actually be recycled due to the additives they contain. These biodegradable plastics produce methane when left to decompose in landfills, and methane actually traps more heat than CO2, worsening the climate change effects. 

Whilst there are some plastics that are recyclable and therefore do not end up in landfill, the best solution is to prevent plastic from even entering our lives at all. Easier said than done. 

But, as David Attenborough says ‘we have a responsibility, every one of us,’

So what can you do onboard to help?

First and foremost, do a plastic audit onboard. It is effective and provides you with valuable information on how you can cut back. Collecting onboard plastic waste for a week really helps you understand where your plastic usage is coming from and then you can start to cut out the easy to replace items. Secondly, you should always be following the ‘Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Refill’ concepts, once you have exhausted these options, then opt for recycling correctly. 

You can also…

  • Reduce your single use; think reusable water bottles, reusable cutlery, reusable coffee cups etc
  • When reusables aren’t an option, choose materials that can be recycled (card, paper, aluminium, glass) 
  • Take part in beach clean ups, this stark awareness of how much plastic washes up on the shore will help you and your crew in your quest for change
  • Opt for large refillable & recyclable plastic products for cleaning & toiletries. Or even, opt for sustainable, non-plastic choices. 
  • Seek out plastic free packaging suppliers, speak to the provisioning companies and suppliers you use and call them out on the amount of non recyclable materials they are using 
  • Spread the word to others about plastic, be an advocate for change
  • Look at your laundry practices; microplastics come off our clothes when washing and end up in the ocean
  • Take reusable shopping and produce bags with you to the supermarket 
  • Are your crew in need of a challenge? Why not do one and support and donate to plastic clean up charities 

So, please, do something today, right now, that will curb your reliance on plastic. 

The future of travel 

From plastic to tin cans, the large ones with windows allowing us to move between continents in hours…

With some travel opening up, or indeed with a promise for the near future, I wonder about the long term impact of Covid on people’s attitudes to their travel habits.

The responsible recovery of the tourism and travel industries is paramount for a sustainable future. This recovery period will give operators and clients to think about their impact. Just recently, Air New Zealand’s chief environmental advisor has suggested an increase in flight costs as their new, post-Covid approach, as well as a departure tax to offset the environmental cost of flying. Albeit controversial, is this what it will take to cover the environmental costs that are already sky-high (excuse the pun)

How will this sustainable travel movement impact crew? Perhaps carbon offsetting will become ingrained into crew repatriation, maybe even a slower route home? Or more importantly, will we now think more before we pop somewhere on that 4-hour weekend flight?

Thank you for reading. Let me know your thoughts on the points raised this month and if you would like any additional information, drop me an email 

If you missed the last article you can find it here.

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