The Green, Green Docks Of Home

7 Tips to improve your marina

August 2010 Feature Ted A. Thompson

Regardless of the type of boat we own, dock mates tend to socialize even when we're not out on the water. For a day, a weekend, a holiday and sometimes even longer, we live in close proximity to one another-neighbors sharing a neighborhood. It's the good-hearted nature of things at most marinas.

In recent times many of us have increased awareness of our personal responsibility to limit the impact of our activities on the planet and its resources. In the news we read tips on saving energy, conserving water, reusing materials, and recycling almost everything. When we listen to the radio or watch TV we hear the same things. Our kids come home from school talking about the Three R's-Reduction, Reuse and Recycling. We're learning. Our hearts are in the right place, but is our trash? Are we doing the right things when it comes to recreational boating and the way we inhabit our boat docks?

Like most sportsmen and women, boaters naturally strive to conserve and protect. We take care not to litter the lakes, rivers and beaches with our refuse. We don't allow fuel, oil or other marine fluids to leak or drain into the water. We try to use products that produce the least negative impact. Most boaters are responsible people doing what they can to preserve the resources they enjoy so much.

There is a vast amount of information available on issues relating to the environmental impact of our daily activities. There's also a lot of misinformation. According to one source, for example, recycling a single aluminum can saves enough energy to drive a typical mid-sized car five miles. Another source claims it is two miles. For the purpose of this article, no source could be found that actually converts soda pop cans into dock parties, but we'll work on that here.

Whether or not a person subscribes to the full scenario of changing climates, melting icecaps, carbon footprints and inconvenient truths, it is common sense that reducing the amount of waste we create while recycling what we can is generally a good idea. A lot of people doing just a little can make a big difference, and the boat docks where we spend so much of our free time-our "second neighborhoods" so to speak-are good places to do a little more and make a bigger difference.

It doesn't require heroic action or significant sacrifice. With modest effort and just a little commitment, we can make our boat docks and marinas more environmentally friendly, and there's a hidden bonus-greening our docks can also help to green our wallets.

Source Reduction

Solid waste is generally defined as all the stuff we throw away-the paper, the plastics, the bottles, jars, cans and kitchen scraps. It's fundamental to realize that there is no such thing as "away." It all has to go somewhere, and in most cases it's to the land fill, which costs money and uses energy resources.

As you leave the boat dock after a weekend of fun, chances are the trash collection bins are filled, maybe even to overflowing. According to the EPA, the average American creates 4.6 pounds of solid waste per day, and while that number continues to increase, land fill space is being used up at a record rate. The easiest way to reduce the amount of trash that must be disposed of is to limit the amount we generate in the first place. It's called "source reduction," and the benefits are immediate. We don't have to pay disposal costs for trash that's never created in the first place.

Buy In Bulk

Packaging makes up a huge percentage of the solid waste we create. When practical, choose larger packages of groceries and supplies, and then make provisions for storing the smaller day-to-day quantities in your own reusable containers. Can you share bulk purchases with one or more of your dock neighbors? Chances are they need some of the same items, and it will probably save everyone money in the long run. It's not always practical or even possible, especially when it comes to grocery items that might spoil in longer storage. But some examples that come to mind are toilet tissue, paper towels, detergents, coffee, and of course gummy worms, which I recently saw for sale in a one-gallon jug.

Reuse Utensils

It's not always convenient to wash and reuse drinking glasses, cups, plates, bowls and utensils, but look at the volume of trash created when we opt for the disposable kind. It requires oil and energy to make all that plastic and Styrofoam, but only a little soap, water, and maybe a good husband to wash dishes. Even the more durable plastic disposables can be washed and reused. Water is still cheaper than oil-except, of course, drinking water sold in individual bottles. I've had decent wine that was cheaper than premium bottled water. Okay, maybe it wasn't that decent, but you get the point.

On the subject of water, do we really need all those individual disposable bottles of drinking water? If you believe bottled water is better than your own city water-and tests prove that often it is not-a less wasteful idea is to purchase drinking water in returnable five-gallon jugs. Durable, non-disposable sports-type drinking bottles are available for refilling. Think about sharing the jug with your dock mates, and perhaps taking turns bringing water for the weekend.

Buy Aluminum

These days everyone recognizes that aluminum is money, although they have not yet begun coining nickels out of the stuff. Sodas and other beverages should be purchased in cans instead of glass or plastic bottles, because you can bet somebody wants that aluminum. Plastic bottles have much less value and too often end up in the landfill. Likewise, there is little market for recycled glass; almost all of our glass gets thrown in the trash and ends up in the landfill. If something gets thrown, it should not be plastic bottles into the trash; it should be a dock party, paid for with the proceeds of a season's worth of aluminum cans. There ya go.

Buy Local Produce

If you can't grow it in your own back yard, it is easy to find a local farmers' market or food cooperative. Besides being fresher and tasting better, locally produced meats, vegetables and fruits save an average of 1500 transportation miles over most store-bought. It also supports the local economy and builds community. Remember that for your next dock party or cookout.

Kitchen And Food Waste

Although it is not a common issue on personal water crafts or most fishing boats, houseboats have galleys, and galleys produce food waste. On the national average, about 11 percent of the municipal solid waste dumped into landfills is food waste. Chances are you or some of your dock mates have gardens, and possibly already have a backyard composting bin. Don't let food waste go to waste. Vegetable leftovers should be collected in a covered, fly-proof bin and hauled off for composting to nourish a new crop of veggies.

Here's a tip, and you don't have to tell anyone: You can store fresh vegetable waste in a closed container in the freezer or refrigerator until it's time to go home and drop it in the compost bin. It won't spoil over a reasonable amount of time. It also makes a swell surprise for your brother-in-law when he goes nosing around in your boat looking for a snack.

Establish A Recycling Program

The sweet thing about recycling is that it doesn't require doing anything difficult; it just means doing things a little differently. The first step in setting up a recycling program on a boat dock, just as at home, is to check with your local recycling center to find out what types of materials are accepted, how they should best be collected at your location, and whether they can be picked up by the center or should be dropped off by a volunteer. In most cases it's as simple as a phone call. Many recycling centers will even provide bins for little or no cost, and pick up or accept recyclables with no disposal fee. Some centers accept "mixed recyclables," using a single bin combining waste paper, cardboard, plastics and metals, while others require separate bins for different recyclables.

On individual boats, recycling is a personal choice and we make it work for ourselves. For a dock-wide enterprise you and your dock mates might need to seek out a volunteer to coordinate the effort, aptly titled a "Recycling Coordinator."  Don't discount the teenager with the blue hair and multiple piercings. Greatness often begins as boldness, and many young people these days have a great respect for the world they will inherit.

There are other things we can do to bring about the "greening" of our boat docks. For example, we should make sure that marine fluids such as motor oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze and even dirty bilge water are collected and disposed of responsibly. We can find safer alternatives to bleaches and caustic cleaning products. A quick internet search will yield tons of ideas, even if half of them consist of lemon juice and/or baking soda. Leftover, partially-used containers of paint, varnish, insecticides and similar products should be turned over to household hazardous waste (HHW) collection centers. Many recycling centers provide these partially used materials to consumers at little or no charge.

There are many things happening in the world today that we can do little about. But if enough of us take responsibility for doing a little when we can, then we stair step our way to bigger changes still. No, we're not going to save the world by "greening" our docks and marinas. But we are going to make a difference in our own little corners of the world, and that's how meaningful change usually begins. To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, or at least to borrow a concept from him, "Can you imagine 50 people a day? I said 50 people a day walkin' in, singin' a bar of `Green, Green Docks of Home' and walkin' out? Friends, they may think it's a MOVEMENT. And that's what it is."

There are countless opportunities to conserve energy and resources and to reduce, recycle or reuse the materials we've been calling "waste." Obviously, we can't discuss all of them here. Many of these ideas may be yours, and we'd love to hear about them. Please drop an email to Brady Kay, the editor of Houseboat magazine at and let us know what's going on at your dock or marina.

A perfect way to start is by recycling this very magazine. It's made of good, reusable stock so you could put it in the paper bin when you're finished with it.

But a better idea, we think, is to put it in the hands of a friend.


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