Talking Trash

turtle pollution
A turtle severely deformed from a piece of plastic that was wrapped around its shell when it was small

Its becoming common knowledge worldwide that trash is a big problem. When we were little, our elementary schools were just starting recycling programs to teach kids about the importance of REDUCE, REUSE and RECYCLE. Today, more and more business are making a conscious effort to “go green” and make environmentally friendly business decisions. There are industries entirely devoted to sustainable practices to reduce the human impact on our planet.

Once we leave the dock we are going to have to make some serious changes to the way we deal with our trash. There is no garbage man that will cruise up to the side of our boat to collect our trash once a week. There is no back yard to compost our garbage. There is no recycling center to give us a refund on cans and plastic bottles and take them away for us. Many of the islands we will be visiting will have less than ideal dumping areas and some won’t have any at all. So what do we do with it all? Just dump it overboard? No way!! We’ll be storing the items that cannot be dissolved until we get get to a proper disposal area. Check out how long it takes for these items to dissolve in the ocean:

  • Paper bus ticket: 2-4 weeks
  • Cotton cloth: 1-5 months
  • Rope: 3-14 months
  • Woolen cloth: 1 year
  • Painted wood: 13 years
  • Tin can: 13 years
  • Aluminum can: 200-500 years
  • Plastic bottle: 450 years

Source: Hellenic Marine Environment Protection Association (HELMEPA)

How about glass? I’ve read it can take something like an estimated few million years!! But who knows…

We LOVE the ocean and are choosing to change to a lifestyle that is 99% based on ocean life.  We will be sailing, fishing, surfing, beach combing, paddleboarding, and swimming ALL THE TIME. If we can make even a small difference and help protect the ocean environment then we will. We don’t want to see any wildlife like the poor turtle with the deformed shell, or dolphins caught in nets, or other sea creatures washed up on the beach that have died from being trapped in or eating trash. We can only hope that if we respect the sea, it will take care of us in return and help us to continue living this amazing adventure.

We’ve heard of tips like crushing, cutting and reusing our garbage while at sea but we still aren’t sure what the best way is to deal with our trash. God forbid we attract bugs because of failing to rinse something out or put it in a sealed container. Our main trash can in the galley is a plastic can with a lid and foot pedal and lined with a plastic bag. We plan on bringing some big heavy-duty garbage sacks to store other trash that can’t stay inside, but we aren’t sure what to do with it yet. Some cruisers put it in the dinghy when hanging off davits, but we don’t have davits. We will surely dispose of all trash we can on shore when provisioning, but as new cruisers I’m sure we will end up with more trash than we’d like until we get the hang of it ;)

Please let us know what you do with your trash when you know you’ll be gone cruising for a long time! All suggestions are welcome :)


Now for the technical stuff…

Our survey noted that our garbage discharge placard was not up to snuff.  It was one of the (get this – only three!!) mandatory fixes we must do to be in regulation. How awesome were our previous owners!? They took such good care of this boat, it was amazing how it all came together and how we found the perfect boat at the right time. The other two mandatory survey items to resolve were an inoperable navigation light (easy peasy) and an improperly affixed Hull ID Number. Theres a much longer story to why the HIN is wrong, but with some super determined detective skills I got it all figured out. Maybe we’ll post about that another day :) If you have ANY questions about the National Vessel Documentation Center and registering your vessel with the Coast Guard just ask us!! It really is a simple process and if you like to take the DIY route it’s totally possible – even when you don’t have the vessel history. I’m happy to help if anyone needs it.

The Waste Management Plan regulations are ridiculously confusing to say the least.  It would be simple if there weren’t updates, but there are all these amendments and new requirements and new language and a bunch of other mumbo jumbo that’s really tough to sift through. I spent all day trying to find which verbiage is the most current and what we need to do for our boat. If you’re interested in the requirements then keep reading :) Don’t forget to leave us a comment and let us know of any good tips for trash management while at sea!



The U.S. Coast Guard published an Interim Rule on February 28, 2013 to implement the revised MARPOL Annex V garbage regulations. The amendments to Annex V entered into force both internationally and domestically on January 1, 2013. The Interim Rule revises 33 C.F.R. Part 151 to reflect U.S. requirements under Annex V and can be found at In addition, the Coast Guard issued a policy letter, Interim Guidance for Revised MARPOL Annex V Implementation (CG-CVC Policy Letter 13-01), to aid U.S. and foreign flag oceangoing vessels in ensuring compliance with the revised Annex V interim guidance to these new amendments.

As a 42′ recreational vessel we are not required to perform record keeping of garbage discharge, but we are required to have a Waste Management Plan IN WRITING, and display a placard (minimum 8″x5″ according to the interim revisions).

A great sample WM Plan can be found here.

This is the Sample Placard for Waste Discharge we will be using as suggested within the USCG Letter in the link above targeting crew and shipboard operations on vessels of more than 7.9 meters (26 feet) in length overall:




The MARPOL Convention and U.S. law prohibit the discharge of most garbage from ships. Only the following garbage types are allowed to be discharged and under the specified conditions.

Outside Special Areas designated under MARPOL Annex V:

  •         Comminuted or ground food wastes (capable of passing through a screen with openings no larger than 25 millimeters (1 inch)) may be discharged not less than 3 nautical miles from the nearest land.
  •         Other food wastes may be discharged not less than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land.
  •         Cargo residues classified as not harmful to the marine environment may be discharged not less than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land.
  •         Cleaning agents or additives in cargo hold, deck and external surfaces washing water may be discharged only if they are not harmful to the marine environment.
  •         With the exception of discharging cleaning agents in washing water, the ship must be en route and as far as practicable from the nearest land.

Inside Special Areas designated under MARPOL Annex V:

  •         More stringent discharge requirements apply for the discharges of food wastes and cargo residues; and
  •         Consult Annex V and the shipboard garbage management plan for details.

For all areas of the sea, ships carrying specialized cargos such as live animals or solid bulk cargoes should consult Annex V and the associated Guidelines for the implementation of Annex V.

Discharge of any type of garbage must be entered in the Garbage Record Book.

Violation of these requirements may result in penalties.

Special Areas:

The special areas are the Mediterranean Sea area, the Baltic Sea area, the Black Sea area, the Red Sea area, the Gulfs area, the North Sea area, the Antarctic area, and the Wider Caribbean region, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. These are areas which have particular problems because of heavy maritime traffic or low water exchange caused by the land-locked nature of the sea concerned.

The Wider Caribbean region means the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea proper, including the bays and seas therein and that portion of the Atlantic Ocean within the boundary constituted by the 30° N parallel from Florida eastward to 77°30′ W meridian, thence a rhumb line to the intersection of 20° N parallel and 59° W meridian, thence a rhumb line to the intersection of 7°20′ N parallel and 50° W meridian, thence a rhumb line drawn southwesterly to the eastern boundary of French Guiana.

In Summary, the only permitted discharges in Special Areas are:

  • Food Waste comminuted or ground  permitted ≥12 nm, en route
  • Cargo residues contained in wash water permitted ≥12 nm, en route
  • Cleaning agents and additives contained in cargo hold wash water permitted ≥12 nm, en route
  • Cleaning agents and additives in deck and external surfaces wash water permitted



  1. Kim says:

    I’m clueless when it comes to trash disposal. I suppose that’s one of the fun things I’ll have to learn quickly once we start cruising. :) -Kim

    • I love the way you think Captain Jim :) My entitlements skills definitely paid off when they tried to charge us $700 to use a documentation service for the Coastguard and State Registration filing!! I said NO WAY, I am more than capable of figuring out and filing the right documents myself!! Is it sick that I actually like it? ;)

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