Out to Sea? The Plastic Garbage Project

Guidelines on Sea Garbage

The MARPOL (Marine Pollution) international convention forms the legal basis for the prevention of marine pollution by waste material from ships. In two reports and six annexes, the 1973 agreement regulates what kind of ship refuse may be disposed of in which marine zones. In certain special areas, such as the North Sea, the Baltic and the Mediterranean, disposing of any kind of refuse into the sea – apart from waste food – is banned.

Annex V, which came into force in 1988, regulates how to deal with plastic garbage. In this category there is an absolute ban on disposal in all zones. Violations are punishable by fines of up to 50,000 euro. As monitoring ships on the open sea is relatively difficult, the same annex stipulates that a garbage diary should be kept. This enables a regulated way of handling garbage to be guaranteed. 

Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSR)
The goal of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EG), which came into force in 2008, is to achieve a good environmental status in all EU marine waters by 2020. The aim is a clean, healthy and productive marine environment that people can use in a sustainable way.

The directive requires the various European marine regions to develop regional action plans. Responsibility for this lies with the member states. The following tasks are to be carried out:

2012: Initial assessment of the current status of the environment, determination of the most important threats to the seas, establishment of criteria for a “good environmental status” and formulation of environmental goals, indicators and a monitoring programme.

2015: Presentation of a catalogue of concrete measures for the respective maritime regions which will then come into force in 2016.

Regional Seas Programme
The Regional Seas Programme of the United Nations dates back to 1974. The goal of this international programme is to motivate neighbouring countries to make a joint effort to protect divided areas of sea. Up to the present 18 regional programmes have been developed. As most of the regional programmes have their own administration, the UNEP is responsible mainly for overall coordination and for advice on how to implement the strategies in national and international legislations.

The regional agreements encourage international collaboration and offer an opportunity to adapt protection programmes to suit the situation of the particular maritime region. The theme of plastic pollution tends to be treated marginally in the European programmes.

In 1975, the Mediterranean Sea was the first marine region with an action plan (Mediterranean Action Plan). A year later the agreement on protecting the Mediterranean from pollution was signed in Barcelona. Today it has 22 members. The protocols that define the concrete implementation deal with the following points: avoiding pollution through waste from ships, aircraft and from the land, establishing protected areas, collaboration in combating pollution caused by oil and pollutants in situations of emergencies, measures against excessive use of the sea, and joint coastal zone management. Current themes are the conservation of coastal zones and the encouragement of biodiversity.

The interstate agreement on the protection of the Baltic dates back to the Helsinki Commission of 1974. The agreement valid today dates from 2000 and was signed by all Baltic countries: Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden. The efforts are focused on a vision of a healthy, ecologically balanced Baltic Sea that can be used for economic and social activities. Since 2007 efforts to achieve the “good environmental status” now called for by the EU are being made through the Baltic Sea Action Plan. The concrete goal is a Baltic Sea with biodiversity, free from over-fertilisation and pollutants, and used in an environmentally compatible way.

The OSPAR agreement, which came into force in 1998, combines the Oslo Convention (1972) on the introduction of garbage to the seas and the Paris Convention (1974) on marine pollution from land and offshore industry. The agreement has been signed by all 13 countries that border on the North Sea or North-east Atlantic and also by Finland, Luxembourg and Switzerland, which are connected to the North Sea by the Baltic, Mosel and Rhine.

The work of the OSPAR commission is based on a holistic ecosystem approach that also takes account of human use. Important basic principles are the precautionary and polluter pays principles. The strategy concentrates on the themes of biodiversity, over-fertilisation, pollutants, offshore industry, radioactive substances and monitoring.