Sailing beyond vegetables and cleaning products

Look at every item that enters your life and consider its life-cycle

Credit: Diane Selkirk

The challenge: look at every item that enters your life and consider its life cycle

We’re pretty serious about sailing. We’ve spent the past few years rebuilding and refurbishing an old boat. Whenever possible we’ve gone with used equipment, both because we’re on a budget and because we know there is far too much stuff out there that should be reused and kept out of the landfill.

In the case of our boat’s sails though, we knew we had to buy new custom made ones. The old ones had already been recut at least once and their usable lifespan was just about done.

You might wonder what this has to do with sustainability.

Well, when I think of sustainability and green living I tend to think about the standard stuff—buying local food, using eco-friendly cleaning products and walking and using mass transit. What I’ve started to think more about are the larger systems I’m part of; how I furnish my home, how I dispose of things I’m done with and who makes the products I use.

Red Flag Designs Red Flag Designs
Red Flag Designs Red Flag Designs

Red Flag Designs’s upcycled bags, change

purses and containers are made of old canvas

and spectra sails.

In shopping for new sails, I discovered that unlike the romantic image of a local sail maker toiling away in his sail loft, most sails are now made in offshore facilities by people who may never have even seen a sailboat. And that romantic image of a sailmaker I’ve held since I was a kid? Well, he’s pretty much extinct.

It made me wonder: What other things that used to be produced locally have been shifted to large-scale manufacturing plants? The unsettling answer is most stuff. You have to look diligently and intelligently for locally produced products, and often, once you find them, they can seem wildly expensive compared to the cut-rate products we’ve grown dependent on.

The good news, in the case of our sail, was we found a local sailmaker named Dave Cross, who works at Quatum Sails, who is determined to stay true to the ideal of local production. He built us a sail for a price that was no different than that of a sail built offshore.

And he offered an added value: when I asked about what happens to old sails, he told me that too often they end up in landfills where the strong bulky cloth can last a very long time. Cross says he’s worked hard to network with several community groups that can make good use of the unique material, “It’s very strong and light, and some of it is very colourful. We’ve sent it to school art programs, preschools, theatre groups and movies sets.”

Some sail material makes its way to companies such as Red Flag Designs, a local company that turns old sail cloth into cool new bags.

The moral for me was that I need to think beyond vegetables and cleaning products when I’m seeking to live more sustainably. It isn’t enough to buy the occasional hemp shirt and organic produce. The challenge is to look at every item that enters my life and ask questions about its origins and it’s eventual disposal.