Dumping of Waste and Other Matters at Sea

Why it matters

The dumping of waste and other matters at sea refers to the deliberate disposal at sea of wastes or other matter from vessels, aircraft, platforms or other man-made structures at sea. It also includes any deliberate disposal at sea of vessels, aircraft, platforms or other man-made structures at sea. These deliberate disposals can also be referred to as an intentional placement for disposal.  An example which is still current is the abandonment of offshore oil and gas platforms at the end of their commercial life, unless they are serving a new legitimate use of the sea such as a diving resort, aquaculture or a managed artificial reef. One may also remember the placement of nuclear waste at sea in deep ocean trenches in the 60s and 70s and the political crises it created. 

This practice has been stopped with the adoption of the 1972 international Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Waste and Other Matter. This Convention created a list of prohibited waste (e.g. mercury, persistent plastics, crude oil, radioactive waste, etc.) and a permitting mechanism of all other waste. In 1996, the “London Protocol” was agreed to further modernize the 1972 Convention and, eventually, replace it. Under the Protocol all dumping is prohibited, except for possibly acceptable wastes on the so-called “reverse list”.

Whilst the placement of waste at sea is regulated under one specific legal regime, it involves waste from different activities (on land and at sea) which, at national and international levels may also fall under the purview of different organisations or authorities. This is why it is considered as a ‘cross-sectoral issue’ on this website.

Despite the 1972 Convention and its 1996 Protocol, the disposal of non-authorized waste streams at sea is still practiced. Parties to these legal instruments also seek to continue limiting the disposal of waste at sea and to ensure that authorized waste do not impact the marine environment.

ACOPS Activities

ACOPS is an Observer to the Governing Bodies of the London Convention/London Protocol. We have been and still are active with the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1972 London Convention and its 1996 Protocol as well as the Scientific Group to these bodies and their working and correspondence groups.

Matters of particular interest include the waste streams focused on by these bodies including marine plastics and microplastics, guidelines on the selection of marine dump-sites, the placement of artificial reefs, geoengineering including fertilisation and the placement of mine tailings (including deep-sea tailings).