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Stemming the tide of plastic waste

The Green Blue

Sara Mills, RYA Communications Officer, takes a look at how the leisure boating industry is helping to protect the environment

When the Environment Secretary called on sports leaders from across the Commonwealth to join in the fight against the scourge of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans earlier this year, it was a clear message to the sporting community to clean up its act.

The need for global change

The plastic tide. Photo: Rich Carey / Shutterstock

With mass sporting events often generating up to 750,000 plastic bottles and 7 tonnes of waste, representatives from Premier League football, swimming and ocean sailing agreed to take a look at how the sector can use its influence to tackle this blight and bring about global change.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time and we all have a role to play to tackle the threats our oceans face. There are few groups which have the global reach and power the sports sector does to inspire change and mobilise action. The industry is already making great strides, and I look forward to seeing how they can build on this progress to be true ambassadors for global change.

The government also announced a £61.4 million package of funding to boost global research and help countries across the Commonwealth stop plastic waste from entering the oceans in the first place.

A leading light

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has always been forward-thinking in its approach to the impact that boating has on the world’s waters.

The Green Blue is a joint environmental initiative established by the RYA and British Marine more than a decade ago to promote the sustainable use of coastal and inland waters. By raising awareness, this ongoing campaign has helped boat users, member businesses, sailing clubs and training centres reduce their impact on our waters, to keep them in great shape for now and into the future.

Focusing on educational programmes, the RYA as a membership organisation strives to maintain freedom of access and rights of navigation for recreational boaters in the UK’s marine protected areas, as well as between water bodies. The Green Blue Campaign is working towards an environmentally self-regulating boating community, as campaign manager Kate Fortnam explains:

Recreational boaters are passionate about the environment they live, work and spend most of their leisure time in. We’re keen to show and build upon the positive steps clubs, centres, marinas and other businesses and organisations are already taking to minimise any impacts they may have on their marine environment – and to help them to further develop this to work towards making boating even more sustainable.

Awareness of environmental issues has undoubtedly increased in recent years. But there is more work to be done to protect the future sustainability of our marine ecosystems.

Reducing waste

Boaters see first-hand the amount of waste at sea or washed up on shore, as well as the overwhelming amount of fragmented and microscopic marine plastic debris that cannot be just scooped out of the ocean. A key focus of the RYA’s work is to help them find ways to reduce plastic waste.

RYA Magazine, which regularly carries articles and features on recycling plastics, recently set an example to its members by switching its plastic wrapper to a plastic free packaging. Made from potato and maize starch it is fully biodegradable and is compostable or can be disposed of with general household rubbish. The RYA has also ordered the first of its fully biodegradable and eco-friendly membership cards, which are 80% chalk based.

Editor Deborah Cornick said: “It’s in everyone’s interest to protect the natural environment that supports our recreational boating activity. We need to ensure that meeting the needs of the present does not compromise the needs of future generations. These actions are just part of the RYA’s continued sustainability commitment.”

How are clubs and RYA training centres contributing?

Planning race courses so that they avoid environmentally sensitive areas is just one example of a whole host of measures that boating venues and clubs can take to encourage boaters to protect the marine environment. Photo: RYA

Many boating venues are striving to ensure they have the facilities in place to enable their members to act in a more environmentally sustainable way. Simple measures can make a huge difference. Providing recycling bins, avoiding single-use plastics, ensuring there is a spill kit available to clean up accidental oil or fuel spills, providing and encouraging the use of antifoul groundsheets to capture paint drips and scrapings to dispose of in hazardous waste bins, planning race courses that are away from environmentally sensitive areas are all easily achievable. Setting up a washdown area where boats, trailers and equipment can be washed will help to stop the spread of harmful invasive plant and animal species.

RYA-recognised training centres aim to reach leisure and professional customers at the start of their boating journey by teaching them about environmental best practice on their courses.

By engaging instructors first, the information can be filtered down. Cue cards and quizzes produced by the Green Blue are available to instructors to engage adults on courses. Games include charades, eyespy and an eco boat check aimed at testing customers’ environmental knowledge in a fun way. Instructors can download free swatch cards containing interactive shore-based and on-water activities to use in their lessons. RYA instructors may also apply for free environmental awareness training, which has been particularly successful with dinghy and windsurfing instructors.

In the sporting arena

In the words of RYA Racing Manager Ian Walker:

We strive to adopt the RYA’s recycling approach, which seeks to minimise waste, reuse/recycle where possible and reduce energy consumption. Our policy on single-use plastics is to greatly reduce our use of them and where feasible to eliminate them entirely. Our athletes and support staff use refillable water bottles and bring reusable lunch boxes to events. We make sure that all athletes, support staff and contractors minimise waste and reuse/recycle plastic where possible.

Sharing our environment

The Green Blue offers support in how to adopt best practice to minimise the impact boating activity might have on marine wildlife and the habitats in which it exists. Seeing marine wildlife from the water is always a thrill, and the developing network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around the UK features an amazing array of creatures. MPAs exist around much of the UK coastline, so it’s important that the recreational boating sector seeks to have a better understanding of the species and habitats protected in the areas in which we undertake our boating activities.

Through knowledge of wildlife behaviour and the areas where marine birds and mammals breed, feed and rest, boaters will become more aware of how to minimise disturbance when out on the water. To help safeguard our marine waters and the wildlife we share our boating environment with, the Green Blue offers these simple top tips:

  • Find out more about the area you are boating in. Contact the local harbour authority or wildlife trust for local advice and marine codes. They can offer a wealth of information on what species you might see and any local protocols you need to be aware of.
  • Think about speed. Always be steady, predictable, quiet and cautious around marine wildlife. This applies whether you spot something in the distance, whether something pops up close by, or whether your passage takes you past seals hauled out on rocks or colonies of seabirds on the cliffs.

What else can we do as boaters?

  • Stamp out the use of single-use plastics by using refillable water bottles and reusable bags
  • Buy products with less packaging
  • Always choose products without microbeads
  • Ditch the disposables – remove all plastic cups and straws
  • Consider more eco-friendly alternatives such as cutlery and rubbish bags made from com-starch, which can be composted
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning and personal products
  • Take part in year-round beach and shoreline clean-ups
  • Find local recycling facilities at
  • Don’t throw anything over the side – including food – and prevent loose items from blowing overboard
  • When carrying out maintenance, use only eco-friendly products and fresh water, and take care that no debris (including paint flecks) ever enters the water

For more information or to download your free copy of The Green Guide to Boating visit The site is packed with practical advice, case studies and information on green products to help you save money, protect water quality and habitats and, ultimately, safeguard the future of our inland and coastal waterways.

Become a #GreenBlueChampion at and follow the Green Blue on Twitter: @TheGreenBlue.