The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has pledged to further address the significant problem posed by plastics to the marine environment with the adoption of an action plan which aims to enhance existing regulations and introduce new supporting measures to reduce marine plastic litter from ships.
IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) adopted the action plan to contribute to the global solution for preventing marine plastic litter entering the oceans through ship based activities.
The organisation in a statement issued in December 2018 observed that the plastic discharge into the sea was already prohibited under regulations for the prevention of pollution by garbage from ships in the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).
The move, however, obliged governments to ensure adequate port reception facilities to receive ship waste.
Dumping of wastes
Under the London Convention and Protocol on the dumping of wastes at sea, only permitted materials could be dumped and this waste has to be fully assessed to ensure it does not contain harmful materials such as plastic litter.
Recognising that more needs to be done to address the environmental and health problems posed by marine plastic litter, IMO member states meeting in the MEPC agreed actions to be completed by 2025 which relate to all ships, including fishing vessels.
The action plan supports IMO’s commitment to meeting the targets set in the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) on the oceans.
According to the statement, marine plastic litter can also pose dangers to shipping. For example, abandoned or lost fishing nets can become entangled in propellers and rudders.
IMO action plan
The plan notes that marine plastic litter enters the marine environment as a result of a wide range of land- and sea-based activities.
Both macroplastics (for example, large plastic items such as plastic bags, water bottles and fishing gear) and microplastics (small plastic particles generally five millimetres or less in size) persist in the marine environment and result in harmful effects on marine life and biodiversity, as well as negative impacts on human health.
In addition, marine plastic litter negatively impacts on activities such as tourism, fisheries and shipping. This plastic material has the potential to be brought back into the economy by means of reuse or recycling.
Studies demonstrate that despite the existing regulatory framework to prevent marine plastic litter from ships, discharges into the sea continue to occur.
The plan provides IMO with a mechanism to identify specific outcomes and actions to achieve these outcomes in a way that is meaningful and measureable.
The plan builds on existing policy and regulatory frameworks, and identifies opportunities to enhance these frameworks and introduce new supporting measures to address the issue of marine plastic litter from ships.