Marine litter issues, impacts and actions

A study that will contribute to developing a marine litter strategy for Scotland’s seas in light of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.

5 Relevant Legislation and Coastal Management Policies

5.1 Current legislation

There is a variety of International, European and regional law ranging from Customary International law, Treaties, Conventions and Declarations that are applicable to tackling the problem of marine litter. In some cases these are specific to the issue and in others integral to the wider principles of sustainability including the UK commitment to the Sustainable Development Convention and Agenda 21, Rio Earth Summit, 1992 and the United Kingdom's Darwin Initiative ( HMSO, 1992).

5.1.1 International legislation

United Nations Convention on Oceans and the Law of the Sea ( UNCLOS)

Part XII of the Convention (Articles 192-237) outlines basic obligations to prevent, reduce and control pollution from land-based sources, sea-bed activities subject to national jurisdiction, activities in the Area, dumping, vessels and from the atmosphere, within the context of the marine environment.

In November 2005, Marine Litter was specifically addressed in the UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/60/30- Oceans and the Law of the sea. It sought to encourage States to develop partnerships with industry and society, by raising awareness of the issues and noted a general lack of data. It also urged States to integrate marine litter within national coastal management and waste strategies, including economic incentives.

International Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto ( MARPOL 73/78) Annex V

The MARPOL Convention is an international agreement to prevent pollution of the marine environment by ships. Under MARPOL the general obligations are;

  • Parties to ensure that ships flying their flag do not discharge wastes into the sea
  • Provision of port reception facilities

Annexes I (Oil) and II (Chemicals) are compulsory, with Annex V relating to garbage being voluntary. Annex V regulates the types and quantities of garbage that ships may discharge at sea; with 'Garbage' including food, domestic and operational waste (excluding fresh fish) ( IMO, 2002). Garbage being defined as "all kinds of victual, domestic and operational waste including fresh fish and parts thereof, generated during the normal operation of the ship and liable tobe disposed of" and ships as a "vessel of any type whatsoever operating in the marine environment, including hydrofoil boats, air cushion vehicles, submersibles, floating craft and fixed or floating platforms", therefore covering fishing vessels and pleasure craft.

The obligations for ratified coastal states include the provision of adequate reception facilities in all ports and the notification of IMO of said facilities.

Under MARPOL Special Areas of sea are designated for oceanographic and ecological conditions which require the adoption of additional mandatory garbage pollution measures. Within these areas certain obligations exist for ships:

  • All plastics, including ropes, fishing nets
  • All other garbage, including paper, rags, glass and metal
  • Mixtures of garbage and other wastes with different discharge requirements
  • Food wastes

Outside of the Special Areas obligations are less controlling in that:

  • All plastics, including ropes, fishing nets
  • Mixtures of garbage and other wastes with different disposal or discharge requirements
  • Floating dunnage (protective material used for packaging)
  • Food wastes and other garbage, including paper,rags, glass metal, bottles, crockery, etc.
  • Disposal is permitted outside 3 miles from land if ground to 25mm.

The North Sea has been designated as a Special Area for garbage since 1991.

In March 2010, 140 states ratified MARPOL Annex V, with regulations covering approximately 97.5% of global shipping tonnage ( IMO, 2010). Annex V is also being reviewed by the International Maritime Organisation ( IMO) to assess and improve its effectiveness.

London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972 and 1996 Protocol relating thereto

The London Convention aims to promote the effective management of all sources of marine pollution, by preventing the dumping of wastes at sea. Certain items are strictly prohibited whereas others require special permission and are subject to strict control. Annex I inhibits signatories from dumping plastics and other non-biodegradable materials from ships at sea and other man-made structures.

The London Protocol (1996) prohibits the dumping of all sources of pollution, with some exceptions. States can currently Party to either the London Convention (1972) or the Protocol (1996), however it is expected the Protocol will permanently succeed the Convention (Mouat et al., 2010).

Under this convention dumping is defined as the 'deliberate disposal at sea of wastes and other matter from vessels, aircraft and other structures, including the vessels themselves'. The term dumping does not extend to pipeline discharges from land or operational discharges from vessels or offshore installations.

Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal 1994

The Convention aims to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects resulting from the generation, management, transboundary movements and disposal of hazardous and other wastes.

The Parties to the Basel Convention recommend that States must take the necessary measures to ensure that the management of hazardous wastes, including their transboundary movement and disposal is consistent with the protection of human health and environment. The Convention defines "environmentally sound management" of wastes as taking all practicable steps to ensure that wastes are managed in a way which will protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects which may result from such wastes.

Other applicable international legislation

Other applicable law relating to the marine environment and marine litter includes Agenda 21: The United Nations Programme of Action from Rio and Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992), with the Jakarta Mandate on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine and Coastal Biological Diversity (1995).

5.1.2 EU legislation

There are a number of EU directives which address the sustainable use of the marine environment, ship based pollution and waste in general; all of which to a certain extent are relevant to the problem of marine litter.

EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC)

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive ( MSFD) is an integrated policy for the protection of the marine environment, which aims to address multiple threats such as climate change, over fishing, biodiversity loss, eutrophication, introduction of alien species and pollution from land and ocean sources.

Member States are required to develop strategies in order to achieve and maintain good environmental status by 2020, having to meet a strict implementation timetable. Good environmental status is defined: 'the environmental status of marine waters where these provide ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive within their intrinsic conditions, and the use of the marine environment is at a level that is sustainable, thus safeguarding the potential for uses and activities by current and future generations'.

The MSFD also specifically identifies marine litter (descriptor 10) as one of 11 qualitative descriptors for determining good environmental status, stating this, the 'properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment'. Competent monitoring authorities will have to start monitoring litter to comply with the directive and protocols for monitoring beach and offshore litter are being developed for them to follow.

EU Directive on Port Reception Facilities for Ship-generated Waste and Cargo Residues (2000/59/EC)

This directive aims to improve the availability and use of port reception facilities, in order to reduce the illegal discharge of waste from ships and cargo residues. Member states must monitor compliance with the directive and submit regular progress reports to the EC on the status of the Directive's implementation.

The Directive applies to:

  • all ships, including fishing vessels and recreational craft, apart from warships;
  • all Member State ports.

Member States must ensure port reception facilities are provided to meet the needs of the vessels. These facilities must be tailored to the size of the port and to the categories of ship calling there.

A waste reception plan must be drawn up in each port and approved and assessed by the Member State it relates to.

Unless exempted, all ships are required to deliver their ship-generated waste before leaving a port, unless the vessel has adequate storage capacity. Ships which do not deliver their waste without providing valid reasons for exemption are not allowed to leave the port until such delivery has taken place.

Individual ports must establish cost recovery systems to encourage the delivery of waste on land and discourage dumping at sea. All ships calling at a Member State port will pay a proportion of this cost whether or not they use the facilities.

The data for disposals is collected centrally by the MCA.

EU Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC and 2006/7/EC)

This directive requires the visual inspection of bathing waters for pollution (tarry residues, glass, plastic, rubber or any other waste) and implementation of management measures when such pollution is found.

The revision of the Bathing Waters Directive (transposed through the Bathing Waters (Scotland) Regulations 2008) has brought some changes which all bathing waters must adhere to by 2015. The revision increases the water quality standards which need to be met. Four new classifications are introduced - excellent, good, sufficient, and poor, based on concentrations of bacteria (Intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli) found in the water. The good standard is broadly equivalent to the existing guideline standard. All bathing waters must be of at least sufficient standard, and that appropriate measures are taken to increase the numbers of bathing waters classified as excellent or good by 2015. Other changes to the directive include the requirement to identify risks to compliance; alterations to the sampling times and methods; and whilst the criteria relating to the classification of bathing waters are currently bacteriological, the revision states other parameters must also be considered in a bathing water's management. Amongst these considerations is the presence of litter pollution.

EC Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC and 98/15/EC)

The objective of this Directive is to protect the environment from the adverse effects of urban waste water discharges and discharges from certain industrial sectors and concerns the collection, treatment and discharge of:

This directive is particularly relevant for SRD, and recommends minimum screening requirements for both waste water treatment works and sewerage systems.

EU Waste Framework Directive 2006/12/EEC (to be replaced by 2008/98/EC with effect from 12 December 2010)

This directive requires ports to develop waste management plans and provide reception facilities for waste.

Other applicable EU legislation

Also of relevance are the EU Environmental Liability Directive (2004/35/EC) and the EU Directive on Packaging and Packaging waste (2004/12/EC)

5.1.3 National legislation

Merchant Shipping (Port Waste Reception Facilities) Regulations 2003

The Port Reception Facilities for Ship Generated Waste and Cargo Residues Directive was transposed in the UK by the Merchant Shipping (Port Waste Reception Facilities) Regulations 2003 to prevent waste produced on board ships from getting into the sea.

The major requirements of the Regulations are:

a) Ships must notify the harbour authority of the waste they will discharge, including information on types and quantities.

b) Ships must deliver their waste to port reception facilities before leaving the port or terminal

c) Ships must pay a mandatory charge to significantly contribute to the cost of port reception facilities for ship generated waste, whether they use them or not.

d) Recreational craft authorised to carry up to 12 passengers and fishing vessels must deliver their waste to port reception facilities but are exempted from the requirement to notify before entry into port and the requirement to pay a mandatory charge.

Environmental Protection Act (1990)

The Environmental Protection Act, 1990 makes 'Duty' Bodies (local authorities, government departments, statutory undertakers, schools, universities) responsible for keeping their land and beaches clear of litter and refuse.

The Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse (Scotland) 2006 has been produced under section 89 (7) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 ( EPA). The code provides guidance on duties including responsibilities. It states that Duty Bodies (mainly Local Authorities but also includes some land owners) are responsible for keeping beaches clear of litter as far as practicably possible. The Code of Practice is based on the following two principles:

  • Areas which are habitually more heavily trafficked should have accumulations of litter cleared away more quickly than less heavily trafficked areas; and
  • Larger accumulations of litter and refuse should be cleared more quickly than smaller accumulations.

Based on levels of use and time it sets standards of acceptable levels of cleanliness. It is not based on the frequency of cleaning, rather the maintenance of an area's cleanliness. Scotland's beaches are categorised into one of four zones;

  • Amenity Beach (Blue Flag beaches and those adjoining designated bathing waters)
  • Recreational Beach (managed beach, award winning beach or beach adjoining other SEPA sampled waters)
  • Sensitive Conservation Area ( SSSIs, SPA's, SAC's and nature reserves)
  • Other Beach (any other beach)

The Code is based on four grades of cleanliness;

  • Grade A: no litter or refuse;
  • Grade B: predominantly free of litter and refuse, other than a few small items;
  • Grade C: widespread distribution of litter and refuse with minor accumulations;
  • Grade D: heavily littered with significant accumulations.

If the level of cleanliness falls below a Grade B, the Code sets a response time in which the Duty Body must restore the land to its given standard depending on the time of year and the zone in which that beach falls (Figure 5-1). For example if a recreational beach should deteriorate to a Grade C or D in July it should be returned to a Grade B within one week.

Figure 5‑1 Timescale to return beaches to appropriate grade, based on beach type and time of year

Figure 5 1 Timescale to return beaches to appropriate grade, based on beach type and time of year ( KSB, 2009)

In 2010, a survey carried out by KSB revealed that 15% of beaches fell below the legal Grade B standard as outlined in the COP. 10% achieved Grade C while 5% only met the Grade D standard.

The EPA gives rights to take action if the timescales and levels of cleanliness are not adhered to. If, after putting a complaint in writing to the Duty Body, action is not taken, a member of the public can take legal action to get a Litter Abatement Order whereby the duty body must clean up the area. There is a charge to apply for an Order and it can be time consuming but it has been successfully used in the past.

Marine (Scotland) Act 2010

The Act is a major legislative reform that will guide marine planning and development. The management of litter, while not directly specified under the Act, may fall under the scope of marine planning. Marine planning will be critical for influencing the spatial extent and license regime for many maritime activities, including activities that have not been regulated in the past such as marine leisure and tourism.

Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009

Whilst not directly related to marine litter, the recent climate change legislation includes provisions for improved waste management by giving Ministers the power to enact and enforce waste management plans, packaging changes, deposit schemes and carrier bag charges.


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