Talking Rubbish: Managing Waste Aboard Vessels

Devising and maintaining an efficient, compliant waste management system on board has never been more critical.

As the topic of environmental responsibility becomes ever more urgently important, the maritime industry finds itself transitioning toward a more sustainable business model. Official bodies, ship operators & managers, tech providers, research teams and ethical individuals are all working in various ways to mitigate damage to ocean ecosystems, and put in place more responsible, sustainable working practices at sea.  

The sector’s goal of reducing its carbon emissions is relatively well publicised. Even people with little knowledge of the industry generally know that its stakeholders are seeking out technologies that lower emissions and reduced the overall carbon footprint both in shipping and leisure maritime travel. However, less highlighted but equally important is mitigating the shipboard disposal of substances.

Vessels produce a great deal of waste, as do their passengers and crews. There are several categories of waste produced aboard ships, many in the form of contaminated liquids. A few examples of these are:

  • ballast water, fresh or saltwater used to fill either cargo or ballast tanks to provide varying levels of stability and manoeuverability to ships,
  • bilge water, waste water that gathers in the lower part of a ship; it can contain any number of contaminants, most often oil, lubricants and grease,
  • sewage, which needs no explaining,
  • grey water, which is the draining from dishwater, showers, laundry, baths and washbasin bins.
  • slops, which are the remnants of tank washings & drainings, and other oil contaminated substances.

For each of these substances, there are a number of regulations in effect determining where and how they can be safely discharged. MARPOL is the IMO’s main convention for safeguarding marine environments against ship pollution. It contains six annexes, each concerned with regulating a specific type of pollution produced by vessels. These annexes list detailed criteria, circumstances and protocols for safely dealing with waste produced aboard. On top of abiding with these, crews always need to comply with other environmental regulations in effect, which can be governed at local, regional and national levels.

Garbage Management Plan

In March 2012, the IMO passed Resolution MEPC 220(63), as part of MARPOL Annex V, which is concerned with preventing marine pollution by garbage from ships. The resolution mandates the use of a Garbage Management Plan (GMP) on all ships of 100 gross tonnes or greater, as well as any vessels certified to carry 15 or more persons. It also requires a designated officer to assume responsibility for the plan. This individual must supply written proof of the crew’s procedures for ‘minimising, collecting, storing, processing and disposing of garbage,’ including a list of the equipment used for garbage handling.

To put the plan into practice, crews must firstly undergo the relevant training programs for waste processing as well as operating and maintaining onboard collecting equipment. Vessels must be equipped with a refuse station and the correct means of processing, storing and legally discarding trash. A precise definition of the different kinds of waste needs to be shared and understood, with suitable receptacles supplied for each type. Collection points need to be clearly identified, and their location marked, with appropriate signage. Signs must also be put up with unambiguous instructions for the proper disposal methods. The plan has to accommodate contingency measures for accidental or emergency discharges; and all of this must be duly entered into the waste record book alongside the vessel’s details. Crews are expected to keep their GMP report on board for a minimum of two years after the last date has been entered into the record.

Waste processing aboard vessels has become a complicated, but vital activity for crews.

Port Facilities

The obligations for managing each category of ship rubbish in port are extensive. For ballast water, the designated officer must ascertain whether a given port possesses ballast water reception facilities, and whether any ballast discharge restrictions apply. Meanwhile, the relevant port and national authorities need to be informed of the vessel’s ballast requirements and whether the ship has to change ballast water before entry to the port. 

Similar conditions apply to the disposal of slops and waste in port. It is the designated officer’s job to confirm whether or not collection services for both are provided. If the answer is yes, he or she still has to nail down the logistics. This involves finding out the contact details, collection times and fees charged by the collection services, and determining whether specific berths exist for the purpose. Are collection skips or drums accessed alongside, and how much capacity do the shore tanks, rubbish barges and lorries provide?  

Contingency Planning

Contingency plans, meanwhile, must include a full checklist of steps to take in the event of any adverse occurrence. These must accommodate an acknowledgment and comprehension of port procedures in such situations, plus a note of the related VHF marine radio channels and telephone numbers to use during incidents. 

Operational Simplicity

Given the extent and gravity of the issue of marine pollution, these waste management and disposal regulations make sense. The potential environmental cost of failing to comply with them can be quite severe, and they are backed by correspondingly harsh financial penalties. The trouble is, finding out which regulations apply in which sea areas can be time-consuming and immensely confusing. Given how easy it is for an oversight to occur, vessel crews and shore teams ideally need digital assistance to ensure continual compliance with international environmental statutes and restrictions.

A solution such as OneOcean’s EnviroManager module is more than equal to address these challenges. EnviroManager draws upon a database containing continually-updated environmental regulations concerning more than 500 environmental zones and 170 nations. Its design is intended to combine next-generation functionality with operational simplicity. As a single source capable of displaying the latest environmental laws for all regions and MPAs (Marine Protected Areas) along a given route, it provides teams the reassurance of being able to plan and monitor completely compliant voyages from start to finish.

EnviroManager uses colour coding to visually present areas where environmental restrictions are in place, including marine habitats where whales and other wildlife are expected to be present.

By automatically calculating a vessel’s distance and entry time to territorial waters, it greatly lowers the risk of faulty or unlawful discharges taking place. A ‘traffic light’ notification system unambiguously shows operators which discharges are allowed or prohibited in any location. A further aid to user-friendliness is that only those regulations which relate to the ship’s specifications are shown. 

OneOcean’s LogCentral is another solution that enables ship and shoreside teams to track, analyse and optimise environmental activity aboard vessels and across fleets. The digital logbook solution allows users aboard to easily complete and submit MARPOL logs in a digital format. Entries are timestamped, uniform and complete, ensuring accuracy, timeliness and far fewer errors. Operational and management teams have instant access to all logbook entries made, meaning they can monitor fleet activity and conduct trend analyses to spot, manage and reduce inefficiencies.

Forearmed with such extensive and reliable knowledge, there’s no reason why operators can’t confidently build the twin pillars of compliance and sustainability into their waste management policies. 

To find out more about how digital solutions for Compliance and Environmental Management can benefit your organisation, contact us now.

30 September 2021