Rules on Dumping of Wastes at Sea
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Rules on Dumping of Wastes at Sea


Rules on Dumping of Wastes at Sea

A significant milestone for the protection of the marine environment will be reached on 24 March 2006 with the entry into force of the 1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (1972), following its recent ratification by Mexico, the 26th country to do so. The 1996 Protocol represents a major change of approach to the question of how to regulate the use of the sea as a depository for waste materials in that, in essence, dumping is prohibited, except for materials on an approved list. This contrasts with the 1972 Convention which permitted dumping of wastes at sea, except for those materials on a banned list.

The 1972 Convention permits dumping to be carried out provided certain conditions are met, according to the hazards to the marine environment presented by the materials themselves. The 1972 Convention includes a "black list" of materials which may not be dumped at all. The 1996 Protocol is more restrictive. It states (in Article 4) that Contracting Parties "shall prohibit the dumping of any wastes or other matter with the exception of those listed" (in Annex 1 to the Protocol). These materials include: Dredged material; Sewage sludge; Fish waste, or material resulting from industrial fish processing operations; Vessels and platforms or other man-made structures at sea; Inert, inorganic geological material; Organic material of natural origin; and bulky items primarily comprising iron, steel, concrete and similar harmless materials, for which the concern is physical impact, and limited to those circumstances where such wastes are generated at locations, such as small islands with isolated communities, having no practicable access to disposal options other than dumping.

The 1996 Protocol is more pragmatic in its orientation towards commonly generated wastes rather than contaminants. It is, therefore, more clear in what is and what is not permitted for dumping at sea, making it easier for Administrations to apply. The protocol places more emphasis on compliance than the Convention: has a Party complied with the key provisions of the Protocol? How effective are its policies to protect the marine environment? It also includes arrangements for the settlement of disputes between Parties in its annex 3, whereas the 1978 amendments to the Convention on the same issue never entered into force.


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