Let's Talk Trash: Reducing plastic waste on yachts

Posted: 9th January 2013 | Written by: Trish Cronan

OO Trish Cronan 150

I've spent the last couple of years talking trash...mostly plastic water bottle trash.  It's not a glamorous subject.  In fact, it is downright toxic when you think of the millions of plastic water bottles that superyachts and charter yachts send to the landfills every year.  A Fiji, an Aquafina, or an Evian bottle will outlast any yacht plying the oceans today.  No one knows for sure, but estimates for how long it takes a plastic bottle to degrade range from 450 to 1,000 years. 

Complicating matters, recycling does not exist in many of the pristine areas of the world where yachts cruise – the Caribbean, the South Pacific islands, the  Bahamas, the Seychelles, and Southeast Asia. Even in places with recycling, only 20 to 30 percent of plastic bottles are ever recycled. 

My guess is that the percentage is even lower on yachts simply because the logistics of recycling aren't easy – sorting it, stowing it, and searching for bins to dump it in.  

So how many bottles of plastic trash are generated each week on a single superyacht?

Counting both crew and guests, about 500 to 700 bottles a week. That's enough to fill seven 30-gallon trash bags.  Using my own loose and conservative math, crewed charter yachts are sending about 2 million plastic water bottles to the landfills in the British Virgin Islands every year.  That is 40 to 50 tons of plastic trash annually…just in the BVI, and not even counting all of the other kinds of plastic bottles. 

Not only do they remain in landfills forever; the landfills on many islands are far from state of the art, and the toxins from these plastics leach into the ground or get burned into the air. Many islands are simply going to run out of space. In fact, the BVI projects that their landfills will be full in 10 to 15 years.

So what is the solution?

The answer is simple: drink the water that you make on board.  Don't buy it in the store.  The majority of super yachts already have what they need to produce pure, filtered drinking water.  And if they don't, the cost of retro-fitting a filtration system is minimal. It would probably pay for itself in a month of not having to buy bottled water.

A couple of years ago, while serving as the Vice President of CYBA (Charter Yacht Brokers Association International), I founded the Going Green Committee. As a volunteer organization, we have limited time, so we decided to focus on a single green initiative – something easy to implement and something with an immediate impact.  Reducing plastic water bottle waste on charter yachts worldwide became our mission. 

As charter brokers, we are in a unique position to work with all of the players in the charter yacht industry to raise environmental awareness –  the yacht owners, the crews, their management companies, our own broker network and, most of all, our clients.

So how do you convince a charter client to give up the bottle? 

As a charter yacht broker, my role is simply to lead the client to the water...and they decide.  They are paying many thousands of dollars for a vacation of a lifetime so they can have whatever they want.  I just open up the conversation. In many instances, it is something that most charter guests have never even thought about.  They are stunned that recycling is not available in most island destinations.

In the two years that I have been promoting this, 85 percent of my clients have chosen to drink the yacht's water.  Minimal discussion –  they simply tick off a box saying yes or no.

In the United States, 40 percent of people drink tap water by choice. Many trendy restaurants with celebrity chefs only serve tap water. And numerous studies have revealed that nearly half of the bottled water that is consumed comes from the tap. So it's not a big leap for most Americans to agree to drink the yachts' water. 

Making the switch with crews is the easy part.  Handing each crew member a color-coded bottle and pointing them toward the tap is simple. One chief stew told me,“I’m not overly green. I’m lazy. My crew was drinking 7-8 cases of water a week. I got tired of shopping and lugging and finding places to stow all of that water.  And then I’d find half drunken (sic) bottles all over the yacht.” 

Besides, going green also saves the owner some green…cash, that is. The crew on the 56m Perrini Navi, S/Y Zenji, only drink water that is made onboard.  They showed their owner that they saved him over $10,000 a year just by switching the crew to drinking the yacht's water.   

How about the yacht owner?  Certainly, the captain can take the lead in having the crew make the switch from bottled water and show the owner the impact on the bottom line.  Some captains have shared their reluctance in discussing this issue with their owner – kind of a "Who am I to tell the owner what to do?"  The truth is that most owners share the same love of the ocean and islands that we do.  Again, it's a conversation. 

It is easy to show that yacht-produced water is often more pure and tastes better than bottled water.  Brands like Dasani are bottled tap water.  And who knows how long those cases of Polar Springs have been baking in an un-air-conditioned Caribbean warehouse possibly causing nasty chemicals to leach into the water?

Many crews have become quite creative in replacing bottled water, offering their own designer glass bottles and a flavour du jour. The crew on the 22m power catamaran, M/Y Skylark, makes their own special water of the day – watermelon-infused, ginger cilantro, or my personal favorite, cucumber mint. 

Thinking beyond the plastic: CYBA announced its 2012 “Save the Blue Award”.To date, nearly 100 charter yachts in the Caribbean and Bahamas have qualified. These yachts have committed to reducing the use of plastic, as well as implementing six other green practices.  Things like using recyclable shopping bags, creating a virtual bridge, using biodegradable cleaning products, and providing sunscreens that don't harm the coral reefs.  

The purpose of the awards is to raise environmental awareness in the yachting industry and to encourage yacht captains and crews to think about what steps they can take to make a difference.  Recipients of the award range from the 12m dive catamaran M/Y Mimbaw to the 54m 2011 Amels superyacht M/Y Spirit.  

You can join the effort to Save the Blue today by taking the survey at www.cyba.net/goinggreen.

Trish Cronan is president of Ocean Getaways Yacht Charters, an international yacht charter company based in Southwest Florida.  She has been in the yacht charter industry for over 30 years, starting out as a chef and now specializing in vacations and corporate incentive groups worldwide.  She is also the current president of CYBA – Charter Yacht Brokers Association International – and founder of its Going Green Committee.

For more information, visit:

Ocean Getaways Yacht Charters – www.oceangetaways.com

CYBA: Charter Yacht Brokers Association International – www.cyba.net

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