The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and other Matter, 1972

Also known as the London Convention, this is one of the first global conventions to protect the marine environment from human activities and it has been in force since 1975. Its aim is the promotion of the effective control of all sources of marine pollution and the development and implementation of strategies to prevent pollution of the sea by dumping of wastes and other matter. Currently 87 States are Parties of this Convention.

In 1996, the London Protocol was agreed to further modernise the Convention and eventually replace it, and it entered into force on 24th March 2006. Under the Protocol all dumping is forbidden except for acceptable wastes on the so called ‘Reverse List’ which include:

• Dredged material

• Sewage sludge

• Fish wastes

• Vessels and platforms

• Inert, inorganic geological material

• Organic material of natural origin

• Bulky items primarily comprising iron, steel and concrete

• Carbon dioxide streams from carbon dioxide capture processes for sequestration

Thanks to the implementation of the Convention and its Protocol, the unregulated dumping and incineration activities that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s have been stopped. Parties of the Convention implemented regulatory programmes to assess the need for and the potential impact of dumping. They eliminated dumping of certain types of waste and gradually made this regime more restrictive by promoting solid waste management and pollution prevention.

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships
MARPOL Convention
Also known as the MARPOL Convention, it is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes, and it currently includes six technical Annexes. Among the Annexes, the most important one is Annex V, which entered into force in 1988 and focuses on the prevention of pollution by garbage from ships. The Annex deals with various kind of garbage and it specifies the distances from land and the ways in which this garbage has to be disposed. The most important feature of the Annex is that it imposes a ban on the disposal into the sea of all forms of plastics.

A total of 122 countries have ratified the Treaty and there is evidence that the implementation of MARPOL has helped to reduce the marine debris problem.


The OSPAR Convention is the mechanism by which 15 Governments and the EU co-operate to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic Ocean around Europe. The Convention has been signed and ratified by all the contracting parties of the Oslo and Paris Conventions (Belgium, Denmark, the European Union, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the UK) along with Luxembourg and Switzerland.

The OSPAR Convention presents a series of Annexes that deal with the following areas:

• Prevention and elimination of pollution from land-based sources (Annex I)

• Prevention and elimination of pollution by dumping or incineration (Annex II)

• Prevention and elimination of pollution from offshore sources (Annex III)

• Assessment of the quality of the marine environment (Annex IV)

• Protection and conservation of the ecosystems and biological diversity of the maritime area (Annex V)

The Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region

Also known as the Cartagena Convention, it was implemented in 1987 and it is the only legally binding environmental treaty for governing marine debris in the wider Caribbean. Through the Convention and its Protocols, governments commit to protect, develop and manage their common waters individually or jointly. The Convention requires the adoption of measures aimed at preventing, reducing and controlling pollution from ships, dumping, seabed activities, land-based activities and airborne pollution.

The Cartagena Convention has been ratified by 20 countries and it governs the

marine environments of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and certain areas of the Atlantic Ocean.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

UNCLOS entered into force in 1994 and it currently represents the most applicable overarching legal framework addressing marine debris. The Convention calls for the protection of the entire marine environment from all sources and types of marine pollution, including marine debris. It does not directly address the issue of terrestrial waste reduction apart from the Article 207 where it asks states to implement national legislation aimed at combating pollution from rivers, estuaries and pipelines.

The EU Directive 94/62/EC on Packaging and Packaging Waste

This Directive aims to coordinate and harmonise national measures concerning the management of packaging and packaging waste in order to prevent any impact on the environment of the Member States and third countries, or reduce such an impact by providing a high level of environmental protection.

The Directive covers all packaging placed on the market in the Community and all packaging waste, whether it is used or released at industrial, commercial, office, shop, service, household or any other level, regardless of the material used.

In order to achieve its goals, the Directive proposes measures aimed at preventing the production of packaging waste, as a first priority, and aims at reducing the final disposal of packaging waste through the reuse, recycling and the recovery of such a waste.

  • US Legislations Implemented to Protect the Oceans
  • Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act (MDRPRA). The MDRPRA established programmes aimed at identifying, assessing, reducing and preventing marine debris.
  • Shore Protection Act (SPA). The SPA applies to the transportation of municipal and commercial wastes in coastal waters and it aims at minimising debris from being deposited into coastal waters from inadequate waste handling procedures by waste transporting vessels.
  • Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA). The MPRSA, also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, has been implemented to forbid:
  • Transportation of material from the US for the purpose of ocean dumping
  • Transportation of material from anywhere for the purpose of ocean dumping by US agencies or US-flagged vessels
  • Dumping of material transported from outside the US into the US territorial sea

In addition there have been a range of international and regional agreements and conventions that have been developed to protect the oceans from dumping and contamination.  These important protocols typically require the adoption of measures aimed at preventing, reducing and controlling pollution from ships, dumping, seabed activities, land-based activities and airborne pollution.

To date these controls have not been able to halt the continued growth of plastics in oceans however they represent helpful tools in bringing new focus to the governments of coastal countries in working on this problem in unison under defined frameworks.


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