Waste management

The general consensus of opinion at the Workshop on ports and harbours in marine SACs was that routine operational waste arising from port activities is not considered to be a major issue with respect to the management of marine SACs. However, ports and harbours provide the interface to the land waste management and disposal system for ships and boats. Operational waste from vessels, if not properly managed, can end up in the sea where the potential for contamination or pollution occurs. Therefore, the following section about port waste management will focus on waste generated on-board ships and boats that is discharged or collected for disposal in ports.

Section 75 of the Environmental Protection Act defines waste as "any substance which constitutes a scrap material or an effluent of other unwanted surplus substance arising from the application of any process". The following types of waste managed within ports and harbours have been raised by certain ports and harbours operating within or near marine UK SACs as potential issues:

  • oil,
  • sewage,
  • garbage,
  • ballast water,
  • anti fouling paint scraps and maintenance wastes (Section 4), and
  • contaminated dredged material (Section 5).

The last two wastes listed above are considered elsewhere in the report, but the remaining issues will be discussed in this section. The above wastes generated or landed in ports and harbours that are discussed here can be broadly divided into four main sources, operational and domestic waste from ships and boats, waste from commercial cargo activities, wastes generated from maintenance activities and associated maritime industry activities and domestic (office) waste generated by port and harbour employees and users. The latter source is not unique to ports and harbours and its impact should be no more than results from similar activities in other coastal, non-port, locations provided it is disposed via normal routes (landfill, recycling or incineration). However, the other three sources of waste if not properly managed have the potential to cause possible impacts on wildlife within marine SACs, and should therefore be examined more closely.

It is important to stress that waste enters the environment of ports and harbours from many sources, which makes the identification of specific impacts from ship/boat or port/harbour generated waste very difficult. It is widely recognised that the majority of pollution entering the marine environment comes from land based sources and atmospheric inputs from land based industrial activities, with only an estimated 12% originating from shipping activities (GESAMP 1990). These land based inputs can be divided into a wide variety of sources which include sewage discharges, industrial effluent, agriculture, municipal and urban runoff.

Although both commercial shipping and recreational boating remain responsible for inputs into the marine environment through accidental, operational and illegal discharges, over the past few decades the industry has demonstrated a notable and improving environmental performance. There has been a significant reduction in pollution from all types of shipping, despite an increase in world waterborne trade. Global improvements in waste management have been largely attributed to the measures required by environmental legislation and international conventions, which are discussed below, most significant of which are the requirements of MARPOL 73/78. Improvements have been further facilitated by technological advances in safety and environmental protection, new ship designs, improved operational techniques and marine transportation activities. In the UK improvements have also been made as a result of the implementation of port waste management plans and increased awareness among port and harbour users of the problems associated with pollution from ships and boats. This has been promoted by a number of education campaigns, including those of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (previously the Marine Safety Agency), Environment Agency, BMIF and the RYA.

Existing regulations

Environmental impacts associated with wastes managed within ports and harbours

Means of avoiding, minimising and addressing the potential impacts associated with wastes managed within ports and harbours


Good practice