From: Pollution Issues
Ocean disposal of society’s waste got its start indirectly long before the Agricultural Age when nearby streams, lakes, and estuaries were useful as waste repositories. As civilization moved to the coastal zone and navigation began in earnest, the oceans were viewed as even a larger waste repository. Early civilizations were located adjacent to bodies of water for sources of food, irrigation, drinking water, transportation, and a place to dispose of unnecessary items. Historically, the disposal of wastes into water by humans was universally practiced. It was a cheap and convenient way to rid society of food wastes (e.g., cleaned carcasses, shells, etc.), trash, mining wastes, and human wastes (or sewage). The advent of the Industrial Age brought with it the new problem of chemical wastes and by-products: These were also commonly disposed of in the water.
Early dumping started in rivers, lakes, and estuaries, whereas ocean dumping was simply not used because of the distance and difficulty in transporting waste materials. The wastes from ships, however, were simply dumped directly into the ocean. As civilization developed at river deltas and in estuaries adjacent to the ocean, and these areas soon began to display the effects of dumping, disposal in the ocean became a popular alternative. Over the past 150 years, all types of wastes have been ocean dumped. These include sewage (treated and untreated), industrial waste, military wastes (munitions and chemicals), entire ships, trash, garbage, dredged material, construction debris, and radioactive wastes (both high- and low-level). It is important to note that significant amount of wastes enter the ocean through river, atmospheric, and pipeline discharge; construction; offshore mining; oil and gas exploration; and shipboard waste disposal. Unfortunately, the ocean has become the ultimate dumping ground for civilization.
Until the 1970s, communities worldwide used the ocean as a dumping ground for wastes generated on land. This practice changed, however, as the harmful impacts of unregulated disposal became better understood. Today, the deliberate disposal of waste or other matter into the ocean is governed internationally by the 1972 London Convention and 1996 London Protocol. The United States regulates such disposal through the Marine, Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act, which also implements the London Convention.
London Convention and London Protocol
The London Convention and London Protocol establish the global rules and standards for preventing, reducing, and controlling pollution of the marine environment by dumping. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC), directs states to adopt laws and regulations on ocean dumping that are no less effective than the global rules and standards, that is, the London Convention and Protocol. Additionally, under Article 192 of LOSC, countries have a general obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment.
The United States ratified the London Convention in 1975 and implements the Convention’s requirements through the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act.
Ocean Dumping Management in the United States
U.S. regulation of ocean dumping occurs through Titles I and II of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), otherwise known as the “Ocean Dumping Act.” Title I outlines the U.S. regulatory scheme for ocean dumping. Specifically, the MPRSA regulates (1) the transportation of material by any person from the United States and, for U.S. vessels, aircraft, or agencies, the transportation of material from outside the United States when, in either case, that transportation is for the purpose of dumping the material into ocean waters, and (2) the dumping of material transported by any person from a location outside the United States, if the dumping occurs in the U.S. territorial sea or contiguous zone. 33 U.S.C. §1401. Ocean waters are defined in the MPRSA as those waters of the open seas lying seaward of the base line from which the territorial sea is measured, as provided for in the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone. 33 U.S.C. §1402. Additional information on the Title I regulatory program is available on EPA’s ocean dumping website.