Today we’re doing something a little different! A whole guest post about living sustainably on Saba, by designer Meghan Halfmoon. A few months ago I was connected to Meghann, whose beautiful sewing patterns and sustainably made clothing you’ve probably seen on Instagram. She’s also accumulated an amazing list of ethical and sustainable fabric sources, which as a seamstress I deeply appreciate.
Meghann and her family live on Saba, a small Carribean island where even basic recycling is a challenge. Because I live in the middle of the San Francisco Bay Area, surrounded by city compost bins and wherein one trip I can purchase bulk olive oil, bamboo toilet paper, and package-free tofu, I wanted to understand how Meghann and her family practice sustainability without the same infrastructure. Meghann touches on an internal question I’ve toyed with for years: How does living in a small, remote environment increase or decrease one’s ability to live sustainably? I’ll let Meghann handle the rest below!
Living Sustainably on Saba
Hello! My name is Meghann Halfmoon. I sew and design sewing patterns for my sustainable sewing label
halfmoon ATELIER. Following a conversation that we started based on her lovely post on DIY Cloth
Snack Bags, Elana asked if I’d share with you what recycling and waste management is like where I live –
which is the exact opposite of where she lives – and what my family and I do to live as sustainably as we
I live on a tiny volcanic island in the Caribbean called Saba (pronounced say-bah). At only 5 square miles
and with a population of 2,000, most people have never heard of Saba and it often feels like a secret
refuge from the rest of the world. Before moving here from Amsterdam, just over three years ago, I
oscillated between apprehension about leaving my beloved life in the city and romanticizing about living
on a Caribbean island, eating fresh fish and tropical fruits from my garden and being one with nature.
That’s how the scene plays out in our dreams, so it must be so in real life, too. Right? Right? Well, no.
As it turns out, there are a lot of things that make recycling and “zero waste”, or even zero-plastic”, a
challenge on an island that I personally hadn’t thought much about before moving to Saba. Nearly
everything has to be imported to the island…and then it also has to be shipped off. The small population
on Saba means that our ability to recycle, and what we can recycle, is dependent upon the recycling
programs of nearby islands. We then need to find the space to collect and hold the material until we have
enough to fill a ship that can transport it to St. Maarten – our “lifeline” to the rest of the world. Because
90% of the land on Saba is privately owned, and Saba is a rocky volcano, space to hold recyclable items
There is also a sort of internal struggle between the desire to reduce the usage of items like paper towels
and napkins or other disposables and the constant water shortage with which we live. Both the small
population and the geographic composition of Saba make a public water and sewerage utility nearly
impossible. Each house catches its own rainwater in a cistern, which is then pumped into the house by
an electric pump. Rain is gold! But it also means that people often opt for disposable. As for sewerage,
this is disposed into a cesspit under each house. Because of this, we cannot flush toilet paper and plastic
bags are used to collect used toilet paper rather than flushing it down.
But as I see it, there are also huge benefits! We learn the true value of water. And, although the island
could recycle more, we already recycle around 40% of our waste. Improving the recycling program is a
high priority of the local government and they are working to improve it in a sustainable manner rather
than find a quick fix. Thanks to our small island and small population, impact, and progress are easily
So what does my family do to live as sustainably as possible?
1. We keep a minimal amount of clothing and we wear all our clothes until they really can’t be worn
anymore, or we give them away if they can. When we need to purchase more clothes, we try to
do that when we’re visiting family and to buy second hand or organic cotton clothing whenever
possible. For myself, I make about 90% of my clothing, also using rescued or organic fabrics.
2. We avoid accepting plastic bags, except for what we will use in the bathroom. Unfortunately, I’ve
not found an acceptable alternative for this. If you’ve got ideas, I’d love to hear!
3. We support the local organic farm by purchasing a weekly vegetable pack. This isn’t enough to
cover our vegetable needs for a full week, but it’s delivered to our house on Tuesdays – the day
before the weekly provisions arrive to the island – so we only purchase the extra veg at the
grocery store. We also almost never throw food away (I’m a bit obsessive about this).
4. Most recently, I also started making my own yogurt in my crock-pot using powdered milk and ½
cup of left-over plain yogurt. This reduces the amount of plastic we consume and also cuts down costs!