Our Top 5 Sustainability Failures in 2015

Our Top Sustainability Failures in 2015
Written by Mahonri Gibson

We try to live a very sustainable life around here. From small things like using reusable water bottles instead of disposable ones, to big things like our solar panels, we try to make a dent in the waste produced, and in the general disposable, consumer culture we live in.

However, with anything there is room for improvement, and despite the fact that we have been living this way for years, we decided at the New Year to do an evaluation and see where we could improve. Sustainable living is a process, not a destination. There is constantly room for reflection and change.

These are at least some of the things we need to change:

1. Disposable Coffee Cups

Disposable coffee cups in the trash.

We tend to drink a lot of coffee on the go. Lately we’ve been commuting, and we get in a morning rush. We haven’t been very good about remembering our reusable mugs, and this means constant usage and disposal of the ubiquitous coffee cup. Hand in hand with this is stir sticks, single serving creamer and sugar packets.

While much of this material is recyclable, it would be much better to simply not waste it in the first place, and just bring a reusable mug. We’ll also try to only purchase at places that have the larger carafes of creamer, and containers of sugar. Or better yet, filling up the mug before we leave home!

2. Non-seasonal & Non-local Foods

Peaches are delicious!We are definitely in the habit of purchasing certain foods we love year round. I mean, peaches in winter? Yes please. And the modern grocery and food distribution network is happy to provide.

Unfortunately, it’s really not energy efficient to be eating food from halfway around the world, when there’s plenty grown right near home, if only you’re willing to change your diet with the seasons. Think of the fuel it took to carry those tasty peaches on a cargo boat, then on a semi-truck, then on another truck. By the time I get that peach it was picked weeks ago, and I’ve sent a metric ton of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Whereas just up the road from our marina, there are two local farmers who raise chickens for eggs to sell, there are farmers on our island who sell local produce, there are breweries, and wineries, and dairies, and fishers.

If we want food, we can get it here and not ship it from somewhere else. You might be thinking you don’t live in such a bountiful area, but if people have lived there before, chances are good that there is local produce. Maybe it will give you a chance to try something new.

3. Food Waste & Compostable Materials

Sorting food waste from trash and recycling

Living in the small space that we do, it’s been an effort to efficiently separate out all of our waste. We are lucky enough to live in an area that has city-wide recycling. However, we still live in the limited space of the boat. There simply isn’t convenient room to store recycling, garbage, and compost containers.

Making it worse, our current marina home doesn’t have a location to dispose of compost, requiring us to find other uses or disposal locations. However, we do have a storage box on our dock, as well as a storage area with the marina and we’ve been working on creating a small-space-friendly compost.

We also have been trying to be smarter about how we use our food so we have less food waste in general. This is always an adventure, as we don’t use refrigeration. I’ve turned to many different ideas to solve this problem of food waste. Shopping more frequently, canning foods, cooking and saving food. We will see what works the best.

We have also attacked the recycling sorting with the double prong attack of taking it out more frequently, and trying to buy less things that use packaging.

4. Packaging Waste

Packaging Waste

Like I just mentioned, it’s amazing how much waste is generated if you don’t pay attention while shopping, just getting home, opening boxes, unwrapping food. Everything is wrapped in plastic these days.

It’s even tougher to deal with when you frequently order products online, or receive mail, both wanted and unwanted. However, we recently came across the blog of a woman who lives in NYC and lives a Zero Waste lifestyle. I perused her blog and was impressed how much of the day-to-day waste she was able to cut out.

It was then I realized that so much of it comes from food packaging. Cardboard and plastic packaging that could definitely not be there. We’ve made a big effort to try to seek foods that aren’t mummified. And it has made quite a difference. Those tend to be fresher, higher quality foods. They are ones you will have to prepare yourself. Which may or may not be a change.

Another great thing about getting that packaging out is something we learned about when we moved onto the boat. Most insects and spiders come into your home (or boat or camper) via packaging. They lay eggs that stay dormant until conditions are right for them. So if you want to keep bugs out of your space, keep the packaging out of your space.

5. Electrical Usage

An electric space heater

We do a pretty good job during the summer, with our small solar array providing more than enough electricity for our needs, allowing us to remain disconnected from the grid. During the winter months is another story.

Currently we need to run a small electric heater nearly constantly while at the dock, and the solar panels don’t receive a significant amount of juice in our current location due partly to shade from the trees on shore and partly to the fact that this is Washington and the sun doesn’t come here for 9 months.

We have a small wood stove in the boat in which we burn recycled wood pellets, but it can be difficult to regulate temperature with it, and it’s constant chore to keep it burning. It is also unsafe to burn while gone from home, while we can leave a electric heater running to keep down on condensation, cold, dampness, and mold.


After much thought, these are the areas we decided to focus on for a while to really help our home become more sustainable. What if we were able to eliminate all the packaging? What if we cut out all our wasted food, or found a way to effectively compost in small spaces? Maybe even recover some energy by capturing methane from the compost? I’m sure there will be problems and discoveries along the way, so stay tuned!

About the author

Mahonri Gibson

Mahonri Gibson is a social entrepreneur, environmentalist, sailor, and photographer. He spent 6 years in the U.S. Air Force as a pararescueman, before deciding to do something more useful with his life.

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