Shipping Industry Cracks Down On Plastic Waste
Cargo ships transport about 90 percent of the world’s consumer goods. At any given time, 5 to 6 million shipping containers are crossing the oceans, each stuffed with a variety of items. Many of these items are, at least partly, made of plastic or wrapped in plastic packaging. Unfortunately, data from The World Shipping Council shows that the shipping industry loses 10,000 containers a year at sea.
Typically, spilled goods (with the exception of oil) are not cleaned up. In fact, there is no international rule that says who is responsible for claiming or cleaning up consumer goods lost at sea by cargo carriers. Unfortunately, plastics are the number-one type of trash found in the sea. According to the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit that organizes an annual coastal cleanup event in more than 150 countries around the world, plastic debris makes up around 85 percent of all the trash collected from beaches, waterways, and oceans. Plastic trash is not just unsightly, it is also dangerous. Plastic debris that floats in seawater absorbs dangerous pollutants like PCBs, DDT, and PAH. These highly toxic chemicals have a wide range of chronic effects, including endocrine disruption and cancer-causing mutations. Many scientists fear that these chemicals could cause poisoning, infertility, and genetic disruption in marine life, and even potentially in humans.
Though the shipping industry is not solely responsible for the plastic pollution issue, it has played a part in it. Recently, the International Maritime Organization has adopted a new plan to crack down on plastic pollution and other litter escaping from ships into the oceans. The new action plan aims to improve current regulations and create new measures to reduce marine plastic litter that is generated by ships. It has identified a number of measures that will help achieve this goal, including:
- A planned study on marine plastic litter from ships
- Exploration of port reception facility availability and adequacy
- Encouraging the reporting of fishing gear loss
In addition, the plan also aims to strengthen international cooperation, particularly the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Environment, and increase public awareness.
In a recent statement, the IMO said, “The Action Plan notes that marine plastic litter enters the marine environment as a result of a wide range of land and sea-based activities…Marine plastic litter negatively impacts activities such as tourism, fisheries and shipping…IMO’s London Convention and Protocol is designed to only allow the dumping of permitted materials, including the ones generated from dredging.”
Currently, the existing regulation from the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) prohibits dumping plastics into the sea. It also mandates governments to guarantee the availability of adequate port reception facilities to receive ship waste. In addition, IMO’s London Convention and Protocol is designed to only allow the dumping of permitted materials. However, these materials are still required to be evaluated before dumping. This ensures harmful materials, like plastics, are not released into the sea.
Though this new plan is expected to offer beneficial results, IMO is expected to regularly review and update the new action plan, if necessary.