Logistics and its Environmental Impact Part 2

Our continuing articles on how the logistics industry is actively reducing its environmental impact. Despite some individuals and the media portraying that we are in climate emergency and no industry is attempting to help solve the problem this not an accurate picture.  One of the logistics organisations which has been leading environmental awareness is the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). Way back in 1988 they introduced new rules regarding the disposal of waste at Sea. As of 2019 there where over 150 Countries signed up to the MARPOL Annex V waste regulations. These regulations are constantly being reviewed and updated. There have been 12 amendments with the last one coming into force in March 2018.

The rules regarding waste disposal applies to all vessels both passenger and cargo who have a gross tonnage of 100 or more and/or those who carry more than 15 people at any one time. The rules also apply to any fixed or floating platform in a sea or ocean. Vessels are required to have a management plan which should cover the following:

  • Minimising the amount of waste produced
  • Effective methods to collect and store the waste so it can not be accidently discharged
  • Processing the waste so where possible any waste which is recycled is separated out
  • Process describing how the waste should be finally disposed of

All ports in countries signed up to the waste regulations have to provide suitable waste disposal facilities for all sea going vessels. Some ports are now providing separate bins to encourage recycling.  Going beyond the current regulations are ports in a many developed countries banning waste wash water being dumped into the ports waters and they have to be taken away for proper treatment. This helps to keep the local environment much healthier.

Possibly one of the greatest threats the environment faces is not a changing climate but the growing issue of micro plastics entering the environment and the human food chain. While discharging waste plastic directly into the ocean is banned under the current regulations. There is still a significant amounts of plastic entering the ocean through lost equipment and other accidently releases. Both macro plastics (for example, large plastic items such as plastic bags, water bottles and fishing gear) and micro plastics (small plastic particles generally under five millimetres in size) are now found everywhere in the marine environment and  is having a harmful effect on marine life and biodiversity, as well as negative impacts on human health.

Unfortunately while the situation is improving, lack of awareness of the issue has been shown in studies resulting in discharges of plastics continuing into the worlds oceans which should have been properly disposed of. In order try and tackle this significant environmental threat the follow actions have been proposed by the IMO:

  • A study on the sources of marine plastic litter from ships.
  • Investigating the availability of waste facilities at ports and if the are fit for purpose.
  • Making marking of fishing gear mandatory this would be done in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organisation
  • Encourage fishing vessels to report the loss of fishing gear;
  • Setting up a process to return retrieved fishing gear to shore facilities;
  • Look at the current training given to fishing vessel personnel and other seafarers to see how it can be improved to ensure awareness of the impact of marine plastic litter;
  • Create a scheme which ensures the compulsory mechanism to declare loss of containers at sea and identify number of losses
  • Promotions to enhance general public awareness of the issue and what is being doing to resolve it
  • Working with other organisations including the FAO and UN

It is surprising that there is no current regulation to report and recover cargo which has been lost over board. Lost containers often float just on the surface and present a significant risk of damage to other ocean going vessels if they collide with them.  Considering this a weekly event often through bad weather and rough seas it is often left to the vessel owners, charterers or insurance companies to clean up the lost goods and equipment. Depending on the costs involved in the incident only the more responsible shipping operators take an active roll despite it can be seen as a positive PR move. It is certainly one area the industry should improve, with the results benefiting both maritime wildlife and ocean vessel operators.