Let’s Talk Trash – Reducing Plastic Waste on Yachts
Our President, Trish Cronan, has 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 super yachts and charter yachts send to the landfills every year. A Fiji, an Aquafina, or an Evian will outlast any yacht plying the ocean 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.
Recycling does not exist in many of the pristine areas of the world where we charter - the Caribbean, the South Pacific islands, the Bahamas, the Seychelles, and southeast Asia. Even in places with recycling, only 20-30% of plastic bottles are ever recycled. Our 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 500-700 a week - that's enough to fill seven 15-gallon trash bags. Using a loose and conservative math, that's about 2 million plastic water bottles going into the landfill in the BVI alone every year. That is 40-50 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. Many islands are simply going to run out of space. The BVI projects that their landfills will be full in 10-15 years.
So what is the solution? The answer is simple - drink the water that you make onboard. Don't buy it in the store. The majority of superyachts already have what they need to produce pure filtered drinking water. And if they don't, the cost of installing or retrofitting a system is minimal - it would 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, Trish founded the Going Green Committee and 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% of my clients have chosen the yacht's water. Minimal discussion - they simply tick off a box saying yes or no. In the United States, 40% of people drink tap water by choice. Many trendy restaurants only serve tap water. 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 bottles all over the yacht.” Besides, going green saves the owner some green… cash, that is. The crew on the 56-meter Perrini Navi, 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 purer 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 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 flavor du jour. The crew on the 22-meter power catamaran, Skylark, makes their own special water of the day - watermelon infused, ginger cilantro, or my personal favorite, cucumber mint.
Thinking beyond the plastic: Over the past four years, nearly 200 yachts per year in the Caribbean and Bahamas have been recognized with the CYBA Save the Blue Award. These yachts have committed to reducing plastic as well as implemented a medley of other green practices. Things like using recyclable shopping bags, serving sustainable seafood, creating a virtual bridge, using biodegradable cleaning products, and providing sunscreens that don't harm the coral reefs. 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. She is the current President of CYBA - Charter Yacht Brokers Association International - and founder of its Going Green Committee.