October 11, 2020 9 min read

By Kate & Nate of Stray Dog Sailing

Over the past year of cruising as full-time liveaboards, the amount of plastic waste we’ve seen in the ocean and on beaches has been shocking. Ask any cruiser and you will find our experience is sadly not unique. In order to try to reduce our impact, we have focused on reducing our consumption of single use plastics and other plastic products. Some have been great, and some have missed the target. Listed below are products we found could and couldn't stand up to the rigors of a full time cruising lifestyle.

Plastic-free products we love

Shampoo & Conditioner Bars by Bohicket Apothecary

We love that this is a minority-owned, small business making and selling high-quality shampoo & conditioner bars. Our favorite is the coconut-scented version because it smells delicious but doesn’t leave an overpowering smell. Bohicket doesn’t leave a buildup in our hair, regardless of the water conditions and we love that these bars don’t need much coaxing (or water) to get lathered. Lastly, we’ve found that if you keep them relatively dry in between uses they don’t suffer from the soap slime effect that reduces overall life. Shop Shampoo Bars & Conditioner Bars

Dish Detergent Alternative by No Tox Life

In terms of form factor, this is probably a new one for most people. Washing your dishes with a bar instead of a liquid may seem like a big step out of the normal, but it is one of the things we have found easiest to adapt to. Basically, you leave the bar out on the sink (or in one of NoToxLife’s proprietary soap dishes), rub it with whatever utensils you normally use to scrub pots and pans with, and then clean your dishes! It’s really easy and has basically no trade-offs to the liquid dish soap. We have read reviews elsewhere that it leaves soap residue on sinks or dishes but that has not been our experience with it so far. We give this product two paws up, especially because it lasts WAY longer than you would think! Shop the Dish Block & Soap Shelf

Pot Scrubber by No Tox Life

Want a pot scrubber without the plastic? Look no further! This little puppy has even our grossest pots scrubbed and clean. The wood base fits great in the palm of our hands and is highly polished so you don't get splinters. Our favorite part is that the bristles are made of plant fibers, so unlike a plastic brush when they start to break down after extended use we aren't washing pieces of plastic down the sink and into the water. Shop the Pot Scrubber

Biodegradable Sponges by No Tox Life

These. Are. Cool. These sponges ship to you IKEA-style. What does that mean? FLAT-PACKED. When we first received these sponges we thought “some sponges these are”. But then just like those AMAZING GROWING FISH I used to beg my parents for at the dollar store, these suckers expand to be real sponges! They also do work (unlike those AMAZING GROWING FISH). They have just enough texture to get those stubborn food particles off of your pots, pans and plates but are still soft enough that you can use them on your non-stick pans without worry. Our favorite part though is that they are made from natural plant fibers so there are no microplastics ending up in the ocean as they break down! Shop the Biodegradable Sponges

Sunscreen by Raw Elements

Want great sunscreen in a plastic-free container? Look no further. This sunscreen is heavier than oil-free facial sunscreens but offers 80 minutes of water-resistant, broad-spectrum SPF protection. If you are sporting a healthy sailor's tan, the tint in the 30+ Facial Moisturizer is going to save you from the chalky white look most traditional sunscreens leave behind, and let's be real, it's important to look good while you are out there. If you are looking for a light-feeling lotion then you might be unhappy with the weight but we didn't find it greasier than any other traditionally packaged SPF 30. The best part of it all, it's reef safe and won't burn your eyes if you accidentally rub or sweat it into them. Shop the 30+ Sunscreen & 30+ Tinted Facial Moisturizer

Facial Oil by Plaine Products

We generally aren’t really beauty oil types of people but the utility of this product is shockingly good. This oil is an awesome moisturizer for your face that hasn’t made us break out, works great as an alternative to lotion on the rest of your body, helps reduce the impact of sun, wind, and general life damage to our hair and makes Nate’s beard feel silky smooth. For ease of simplicity and practicality on the boat, this is one of our all-around favorite items. Shop the Beauty Oil

Body Lotion by Plaine Products

This is a great everyday lotion for face and body use. It's light enough not to clog pores or cause breakouts but heavy enough to actually moisturize. If you live in a northern climate or suffer from especially dry skin, you probably want something heavier, but for the rest of us, this is a great product in sustainable and creative packaging. The scent is strong during applications but we've found it doesn't linger on your skin and leave you in a cloud of odor. The best part is that it is free of sulfates, parabens, silicone, phthalates and palm oil so there's no guilt in jumping into the water and having chemicals float off you into the ocean. Shop the Body Lotion

Facial Cleansing Bar by No Tox Life

This bar leaves our faces feeling clean and soft. It washes away oil, dirt, sand, and sunscreen without leaving our skin feeling overly dry. We recently forgot to pack it on a trip and missed it a couple of days we went without, it's honestly that good. Shop theFacial Cleansing Bar

Toothpaste alternative by Nelson Naturals

This has got to be the most polarizing product of all the waste reduction methods we have used. You pretty much fall on one of two sides of the fence here and that aligns closely with how hardcore you feel about reducing your impact. Bads first: if you are looking for a traditional toothpaste experience you are going to be really disappointed. The bites don’t foam very much and, despite being labeled as mint-flavored, they don’t really taste like anything beyond taking a splash of salt spray to the face. So there is that. On the flip side, they work very well. They are strong enough to wash away the morning and coffee breath and even the harshest of our testers (Nate) admit they do leave your teeth feeling clean. If you know what you are signing up for, and don’t mind changing up the experience of your tooth-brushing routine, these are a completely functional alternative to a traditional tube of toothpaste. When compared to the toothpaste in jars the bites are much easier to use on a heaving ship, on the road, or hanging out of a tent. Shop the Crush & Brush Toothpaste Bites

Laundry Detergent by TruEarth

Of all of the plastic-free products, laundry detergent was by far the most difficult one to source. We tried pods and powders from so many companies. The TruEarth Laundry Detergent Strips performed best because they have an awesome form factor for living on a boat (super easy storage!), and dissolve in cold water for all of you liveaboards that are like us and use the 5-gallon-bucket clothes washing technique! For those of you that prefer to use a laundromat - well guess what - these suckers are super light, so when you are schlepping your clothes 2 miles to wash them you don’t have the added weight of that liquid detergent. The only comment we have received from any of our testers is that while your clothes come out smelling clean they don’t have that punch you in the face detergent smell that some detergents leave. Personally, we prefer it the TruEarth way! Shop the Laundry Detergent Strips

Reusable Ziplock Bags by Stasher

Why we loved them: Thick, easy cleaning, sturdy

We store all sorts of stuff in them from fruits, veggies, leftovers, to fish. We love that they are so easy to clean, seal reliably every time without breaking down, and have not absorbed any weird smells (even when they get lost in the fridge and things get funky inside). The groves to seal them are much bigger than a standard ziplock and that makes cleaning a breeze and prevents water from getting trapped after washing and molding. 

Laundry Detergent by Dropps

Why we loved them: Reasonably priced, plastic free packaging, worked in fresh and saltwater

We felt that the detergent pods did a really good job of making our clothes smell fresh and clean and were the perfect size for cruisers like us using 5 gallon buckets to do their laundry aboard. These laundry pods come in sustainable, recyclable packaging with no plastics whatsoever and all their products are EPA certified Safer Choice Picks.

Shampoo & Conditioner Bars by Humby

Why we loved them: Long lasting, worked in fresh and saltwater, hair felt great!

We cannot say enough good things about these bars. Our hair felt great, no plastics to worry about, and they last forever! Our first bar lasted the two of us, showering regularly, almost four months which was pretty comparable to a standard shampoo or conditioner bottle. There is a trick to making them last though. Our family bought us the bars with an aluminum container and a snap on lid for storage. While this was great, the bars last way longer if you leave the lid off and allow them to dry as much as possible so they don’t get soft. 

Glass Food Storage - Multiple Brands

We have tried both Pyrex and Amazon Basics glass food storage containers. We love the glass containers because they make reheating leftovers in the oven easy and are incredibly hardy. We’ve had both brands slide off of the counter during a surprise heal on more than one occasion and they haven’t cracked or broken. The lids for both have been plastic which is a downside. We also found that the Amazon lids that have hinged snaps break down over time and have broken, especially if we freeze leftovers in them. On the other hand, the more simple Pyrex lids have split in places and do not seal as well as the snap ons.  

Products we will continue to put up with

Compostable Trash Bags by UNNI

Why we put up with them: They are compostable

While these guys are pretty thin, they did the trick in our small, under sink trash bin. We loved getting rid of the plastic bags. The compostable bags function in every way like a normal plastic bag with one exception. While cruising in more remote places we sometimes go a few weeks without being able to get trash off the boat. If we stored our trash in a locker that could get wet, these bags started to break down and things could get messy to say the least. Fortunately, we had some workarounds but their compostable nature forces us to pay a bit more attention to where and how we store trash aboard Grace.

Solid Dish Soap by The Earthling

Why we put up with it: Loved eliminating the plastic container, great packaging but reduced lifetime, relatively expensive

The Earthling packages their soap in a metal tin which makes it clean in terms of storage on our sink and easy to use. No complaints in terms of its performance, there was really no telling it apart from Dawn or any other liquid dish soap we have used. The only downsides of this particular brand were that the container held water around the soap which shortened it’s life, and relative to alternatives it was expensive. The Earthling does some amazing things in their quest to eliminate plastic and promote environmental conservation so we didn’t mind footing the bill but we will probably experiment with several other brands and options for solid dish soap. 

Products that missed the mark

Reusable ziplock bags by Russbe

Why we didn’t like it: Stained, absorbs smells, difficult to clean grooves

To give credit where credit is due, these have been in service for 6 months despite near constant use but that is about the only good thing we have to say. These bags absorbed smells and stained during use. Additionally, because the seals were small and closer to conventional ziplocks, they are more difficult to clean. This may not be a problem if you can throw them in a dishwasher but for life on a boat with only handwashing and limited access to freshwater, we just felt like the Stasher bags were better suited for the challenge. 

Other ways to reduce your plastic consumption on a boat

Metal Bucket - we are constantly using a bucket to bring raw water onto the boat for washdowns and we have lost several buckets while attempting to do this. One way to minimize plastic on board and have a long lasting sturdy bucket is to invest in a metal one. Ours lasted for months until we accidentally dropped it overboard. The plus side is that even in this situation it will eventually rust to nothing on the ocean floor rather than wash up on a beach. With regular use, we didn’t have issues with corrosion and the handle never broke. Just be careful with the gelcoat on your hull when you toss it over the side!

Cotton towel rags - boats are messy. As with most boat owners, we always have a project  or unexpected mess that we need to clean up and hate having to use paper towels (with plastic packaging) for this. We have several old towels that we keep around just for such occasions. They aren’t pretty and we have to wash them separately, but they are so handy when you need them.

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