By Jaquelyn Burton (Coeval, Inc.) Garbage is a problem. But, plastic is the real disaster – it is as valid on land as it is on the seas. In fact, a lot of the plastics in the seas came there by way of the cities and towns that are along the coastlines of the world. The trash that blows into the harbor and bays – that which comes from alongside the beaches. The garbage bags that are ripped open by seagulls – and the trash that blows in the wind. That garbage ends up in the sea. It becomes the plastics that fish ingest, that entraps turtles, and that snares birds.
Some have blamed ships for contributing to this herculean plastic problem. Ships have been prohibited from disposing of any and all forms of plastics at sea since 1988. There is some evidence that some ships have disposed of plastics at sea against the regulations that were in place at the time and still are. However, increasing legislation does not stop the unscrupulous from illegal dumping – it didn’t then and doesn’t now. Fines and laws also don’t stop everyone from littering.
Marpol or The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships was adopted in 1973 that with the latest amendment enacted in 2011. According to the IMO “ The Convention includes regulations aimed at preventing and minimizing pollution from ships – both accidental pollution and that from routine operations – and currently includes six technical Annexes. Special Areas with strict controls on operational discharges are included in most Annexes.” It covers not only the disposal of garbage at sea, but also the handling and disposal of Oil, Nauseous liquid substances, Air pollution…..
According to the IMO “ The Convention includes regulations aimed at preventing and minimizing pollution from ships – both accidental pollution and that from routine operations – and currently includes six technical Annexes. Special Areas with strict controls on operational discharges are included in most Annexes.” It covers not only the disposal of garbage at sea but also the handling and disposal of oil, nauseous liquid substances, harmful substances (marine pollutants), air pollution and sewage.
The current iteration of these regulations has restricted in addition to the old regulations on the disposal of plastics – also the dumping of glass, metal, paper, rags, natural fibers, paper, and in some cases the disposal of food waste. Some of the arguments for the increased restriction is that it could be possible that there might be some plastic tape or other residual plastic combined with one of the previously permitted items – such as packing tape that had not been removed from a box.
While possible that some of the plastic that is marine pollution could have resulted from an amount of plastics that were disposed of with paper or other refuse. It seems that the majority of the plastics problem is not the result of it. The bulk of the problem is coming from storm drains and litter in coastal cities and beaches. According to the United Nations Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution in a 1991 study land-based sources account for eighty percent of the world’s marine pollution!
Still, the regulations are here to help. As well-intentioned as they are, the bans on the dumping of biodegradable and inert substances is not helping to clean the oceans or reduce the number of plastics that are in the oceans, rivers, and bays.
The regulations are not provided to help mariners, nor even the sea and its creatures – the only help they seem to offer is to companies with port monopolies on disposal. For every port a ship pulls into – the garbage must be sorted, weighed and accounted for – including logs for incinerated garbage and the ashes from it. Most of this garbage ends – as most garbage does worldwide – in a landfill or an incinerator. Hours of sorting, all to go in the truck or launch – in a single skip – off to a big hole in the ground, or burned to ashes and air pollution.
Mariners don’t want to see the sea polluted, or fish and whales die, but, the regulations on garbage are becoming a bit excessive. Now in many areas of the oceans it is prohibited to throw un-comminutedfood waste overboard. Now everywhere it is forbidden to throw paper, or glass or even wood. Paper biodegrades inwater in six weeks. Glass is inert – it may as well be a rock on the sea floor. Wood washes off the land and out of forests from all parts of the world daily. The only items that cause lasting damage to the marine environment are plastics, oils, and some chemicals – excluding air pollution of course.
The regulations restricting food waste, papers, metals, and glass – seem to go directly to the pockets of those lucky enough to own the port monopolies on garbage discharge.
The waste that does not go to a landfill is incinerated instead – so on top of the existence of the waste – it has the added environmental impact of additional transportation to a waste management facility – where it is either landfilled or incinerated. The incineration in itself causes air pollution – which in the case of paper, wood or other biodegradables is unnecessary.
The garbage that goes to incinerators is collected by companies that are not only paid to pick up and dispose of the waste, but they use it for fuel during incineration and sell the power generated by the heat. They are being paid to provide electricity and to pick up the fuel they use to make it.
Thousands of dollars are paid by the ships each time they need to discharge garbage and waste oil. But, imagine if it were free? Or better still if vessels were paid by the incinerators/generators to provide fuel in the form of waste oil, plastics and refuse that could be used to generate power.
If ships were paid to deliver the garbage, it might become economical for ships to clean the oceans while they are in transit. Some ships might become full-time ocean cleaners if it were economical to do so. We certainly have the technology and ability to…
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