The International Maritime Organisation
Steps Up to Tackle Marine Litter

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is set to begin a huge study on how it can help to reduce the amount of plastic litter from shipping activities.

It said it would study litter levels and port reception facilities for litter and think about introducing new measures including making it compulsory to make a declaration when shipping containers are lost at sea. The IMO said that once they have completed the study and formed an action plan aimed at addressing the problems caused by marine plastic, actions will be taken by IMO member states by 2025.

The problem of enforcement

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships already prohibits the outright dumping of plastic into the sea, but it only “obliges” governments to make sure there are suitable waste facilities at ports. Protocols on the dumping of waste at sea only permit certain materials to be dumped, and these are closely scrutinised to make sure they don’t contain hazardous materials or plastics. The dumping of plastic at sea may have been banned for 30 years, but the problem is, who is really there to enforce it?

The IMO said that the action plan is a way to identify measures that can be taken to achieve specific outcomes, and it builds on existing regulations. It added that the action plan will only enhance the existing regulations and address the issue of plastic litter from ships.

shipping containers

The action plan

The Action Plan recognises that marine plastic litter enters the oceans because of land and sea-based activities. There are a range of macroplastics (larger plastics like plastic bags and water bottles in the marine environment as well as microplastics (small particles 5mm or less in size). Both types of plastic negatively affect marine life and human health, as well as tourism, fisheries, and shipping. It recognises that much of this plastic is recyclable and that despite existing anti-marine litter regulations, plastic litter still finds its way into our oceans.

Proposed measures to tackle marine litter

  • A study on marine plastic litter from ships
  • An assessment of the adequacy of port waste reception facilities
  • Making it mandatory to mark fishing gear
  • Encouraging people to report the loss of fishing gear
  • Taking retrieved fishing gear to facilities in ports
  • Raising awareness of litter among fishermen and seafarers by introducing training
  • Making it compulsory to declare it if shipping containers have been lost at sea

Raising public awareness

Further details on the study, the action plan, and proposed measures will be discussed at the next IMO Environment Protection Committee meeting in April. It’s not expected to be a fast process though, for any new measures to be added to an existing treaty, they have to be proposed and circulated for around six months before they are adopted. The study and action plan is a good first step to making our oceans much healthier though, and that can only be a good thing.