The phrase, “going green” has become a buzz word in our culture and for good reason. Many people are thinking twice about how they can do their part to save the planet. Some do it because it’s trendy, others do it because they fear public condemnation, and then there are those who do it to pocket a few extra bucks after a trip to the recycling plant.
Whatever your motivation, limiting the impact of our activities on the planet and its resources is never a bad idea. You can get online and read tips on saving energy, conserving water, reusing materials, and recycling almost everything. That’s great for our day-to-day lives, but when it comes to recreational boating and the way we inhabit our boat docks, are we doing everything we can?
Houseboaters are some of the friendliest people around as well as the most respectful when it comes to the bodies of water we boat on. We’re cautious not to litter the lakes, rivers and beaches and we’re careful not to allow fuel, oil or any other marine fluids to leak or drain into the water.
Whether or not you subscribe 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 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.
The nice 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 your 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.
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 landfill, which costs money and uses energy resources.
Ever notice the overflowing trash bins at the marina on a Sunday afternoon in the summer? Whoa! 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 a lot easier to just use disposable cups, plates and utensils, no argument here. But just look at the volume of trash you create after a weekend on the boat and you realize the price we pay for convenience. It requires oil and energy to make all that plastic and Styrofoam, but only a little soap and water to wash the dishes. Even the more durable plastic disposables can be washed and reused. Water is still cheaper than oil—except, of course, drinking water that is sold in individual bottles. I’ve seen a single bottle of “premium” water go as high as five dollars at some marina stores, sigh.
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.
These days everyone recognizes that aluminum is money. 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.
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. 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 make 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.
There are countless opportunities to conserve energy and resources and to reduce, recycle or reuse the materials we’ve been calling “waste.” 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.