MEPC takes on ocean plastics

Plastic pollution on a beach. Credit: Getty Images
Plastic pollution on a beach. Credit: Getty Images

Increased public awareness of concentrations of marine debris floating in the northern Pacific Ocean, known as ‘garbage patches’, is among the drivers that have resulted in the IMO taking a harder look at marine plastic litter.

On 26 October, MEPC 73 delegates adopted an action plan to address the problem. It is “intended to contribute to the global solution for preventing marine plastic litter entering the oceans through ship-based activities”, according to the IMO.

The organisation pointed out that dumping plastics into the sea is already illegal under the MARPOL convention, which regulates the disposal of waste from ships and requires governments to ensure there are port reception facilities to receive it.

In addition, under the London Convention and London Protocol, only materials with certain permits can be dumped overboard and they must be assessed to ensure they do not contain plastics.

Despite these regulations, the IMO has determined that even more must be done to address the problem.

The action plan adopted at MEPC 73 “provides [the] IMO with a mechanism to identify specific outcomes, and actions to achieve these outcomes, in a way that is meaningful and measureable”, the IMO stated. Building on existing policy and regulations, the plan “identifies opportunities to enhance these frameworks and introduce new supporting measures to address the issue”.

Measures in the plan addressing shipping’s contribution to marine plastic litter include a review of the application of placards, waste management plans, and garbage record-keeping in MARPOL Annex V, and potentially establishing a required mechanism to declare the loss of containers and identify the number of losses. It also includes a proposal to amend the IMO model course on environmental awareness to specifically address marine plastic litter in seafarer training.

MEPC delegates agreed to further discuss concrete measures and details in advance of MEPC 74 in May 2019, with actions preliminarily scheduled to be completed by 2025.