Plastic Push

Charter Clients can now request environmentally friendly water systems, just as they might request kayaks or Wi-Fi.

Green Charter

I’m thirsty. Somebody hands me a cup of water. It all seems so normal at first. So routine.

The cup looks and feels like clear plastic, but, I’m told, it’s made from the waste at a Caribbean sugar-cane plant. The cup is completely biodegradable, so I don’t have to feel guilty about drinking from it.

To be honest, I wasn’t feeling anything other than thirsty, but apparently, I’m also supposed to feel pensive. I’m asked to consider not just the cup, but also the water I’m about to sip.

I tip the cup to my lips. I swallow. I feel quenched.

Big honkin’ deal, right? The experience is really mundane — which is exactly what the organizers of this presentation are counting on. They want taking a sip of this particular type of water to become so commonplace that nobody even stops to think about it.

Right now, though, a heck of a lot of thought is going into it. Leaders in the yacht-charter industry have been thinking about it seriously since 2009. That’s the year organizers of the spring regatta in the Virgin Islands decided to earn Clean Regatta certification from Sailors for the Sea. One focus was reducing the presence of bottled water, since there is no plastic-recycling facility in the Virgin Islands. Plastic bottles that once held water end up as garbage on the beaches or in a landfill en route to an incinerator. And since bottled water on boats has become so popular, the incinerators have been having a hard time keeping up.

Janet Oliver, executive director of the BVI Charter Yacht Society, heard about the regatta’s efforts and decided to make a similar push at that fall’s crewed-charter yacht show on Tortola. She arranged for reusable water bottles to be distributed at the registration desk, and she encouraged charter brokers to refill them all week instead of offering plastic bottles of water during yacht tours. Oliver also e-mailed all of the captains in the boat show to encourage them to refill the reusable bottles instead of buying case upon case of the usual stuff.

“Everyone immediately embraced it,” Oliver recalls. “They see all the time that people drink half a bottle of water and then leave it to bake in the sun. It’s a waste of the water. It’s a waste of the plastic. It’s a cycle of waste, and we were giving them a way to stop that cycle.”

One of the charter brokers who attended that boat show is Trish Cronan of Ocean Getaways. She’s a member of the Charter Yacht Brokers Association, and she soon became head of CYBA’s first-ever Green Committee. By the time she had organized the presentation where I received my cup of water in late 2011, more charter yachts than ever were offering guests water in reusable or biodegradable cups. Database booking systems were listing environmentally friendly water supplies as charter yacht features, right alongside kayaks and Wi-Fi. Charter brokers were pushing business to yachts that had invested in eco-friendly filtration systems — and it had become easy to get most clients to go along, Cronan says, once they understood the reason those systems are important.

“We started doing some math,” Cronan says. “We looked at the number of crewed yachts in the Virgin Islands, and at the number of guests, and at the average number of bottles of water they drink, and at the total number of charters each year, and we realized that crewed charter yachts are dumping about a million plastic water bottles into those landfills each year. That’s not bareboats, cruise ships or any other kinds of boats — just the crewed yachts. We really had to stop the problem before it gets any worse.”

Captains and charter yacht owners also started doing some math. They looked at the cost of water-filtration systems, compared it with the cost of buying bottled water and quickly realized that systems were a smart investment. They take up a heck of a lot less stowage than cases of bottled water. And they are a marketing tool as demand grows for eco-friendly drinking water.

"We didn't have to rip anything out in the galley to do this," says Andrea Aliverti, who co-owns and runs the 47-foot sailing catamaran Nemo. "We bought our seven-filter system in Italy for about 700 euros and installed it in a cabinet under the sink. The only other expense is changing the filters, which is not much, and we bought a Soda Stream machine to turn the filtered water into fizzy water if guests want it. Why waste fuel flying S.Pellegrino from Italy when we can make it right here too?"

The Soda Stream machine is about the size of a blender, and the filter system takes up about as much space as a backpack. Nemo used to go through at least two cases of bottled water a day with eight guests on board, so the new features paid for themselves in the first year of charter. They're not only helping to solve the landfill problem where Nemo operates, but are also saving the yacht at least $1,000 a year in provisioning costs.

And Nemo's system makes really good water — the water that was in my biodegradable cup that morning. It didn't taste like seven filters or weird chemicals or anything else other than, well, water.

It was just plain refreshing, in more ways than one.