This category contains fruit peels, egg shells and vegetable cores; basically all the produce parts we don’t consume. It goes overboard when the tide is outgoing or the wind is off shore, and at a time nobody is around enjoying the clear waters. It is best to cut the bigger items, like banana or plantain peels, into smaller pieces before disposing them. The organic waste deteriorates quickly or is eaten by sea creatures.
In the San Blas islands we are lucky with the beer and soda cans: the Kuna Indians collect them and sell them to the Colombian trading boats stopping at their village. Anytime vendors pass by Irie or we visit one of the towns, our beverage cans are received with a smile. Other cans are opened on both sides and sank in very deep water while underway. They will dissolve over time.
Simplistically speaking, glass is made out of sand and might eventually return to sand. The quickest way to make that happen is to shatter the glass and make sure it sinks to the bottom of the ocean or the deep passages in between islands. On Irie glass jars are washed and recycled as storage containers.
This is the most controversial piece of trash. When we are in a remote area for just a few weeks, we hang on to our plastic bottles until we reach civilization again. If we are out here for longer periods of time, a trash burn takes place and other cruisers are invited. We make a fire under the high water line of a leeward beach (bug spray required) and burn the plastic trash. This is exactly what the Kunas and many other cultures do as well. The leftover ashes are washed away in the sea water. Any parts that didn’t burn are taken back to the boat and disposed of properly at another time. On Irie we also use cleaned plastic bottles to store used cooking oil, used engine oil or other liquids.
Paper items, egg cartons, cardboard and (thin) toilet tissue deteriorate quickly in water, especially when shredded. We dispose of paper the same way we treat organic waste, ideally on a passage. We hang on to cardboard to start fires.
Items that don’t fit in one of the previous categories (like batteries, used engine oil, aluminum foil) are stored in a separate garbage bag in the anchor locker and taken to the mainland whenever we reach it again.
Disposing of boat garbage properly is a hot topic and one not many people like to talk about. It was a concern of ours when arriving in Kuna Yala, but other conscious cruisers set examples. When Mark and I cruised in inhabited areas (without recycling options, which is most of the Caribbean) the previous years, our shopping bag sized garbage bin was full every two or three days. Most of the space was taken up by organic materials and cans. Using the methods described above, it takes about a week or longer to fill our trash bag with plastic items and tetrapak boxes (in which milk and wine are sold). These bags are stored in the anchor locker until the next trash burn, while the cockpit is temporarily littered with two other bags: one “for the Kunas” and one “to be sunk”.