Navy Trash Washes Ashore on the Outer Banks

Ships are prohibited from dumping trash into the ocean. But what do they do with it? and how well is it done?

Trash disk. Photo:

Last week, mysterious, floating, stinky disks began washing up on the beaches of the Outer Banks, NC. The disks were eventually identified as trash processed on US Naval vessels. The Navy is under strict regulation to store the trash until they are able to properly dispose of it, but somehow these 30 lb disks are ending up in the ocean. A naval investigation is underway, but the bigger questions is why might they get away with this, and how are laws that prohibit dumping at sea enforced.

The London Convention, under the International Maritime Organization prohibits the dumping of trash into the ocean, but has no real enforcement power. Military vessels sail with basic immunity anyway, and so probably could not get in trouble by the international community. So power falls to the United States.

In the US ocean dumping is covered under the Marine Protection, Research & Sanctuaries Act (1972). In terms of plastic, the MPRSA prohibits the dumping of “persistent, inert, synthetic materials”.  Enforcement is carried out by the US Coast Guard. Penalties include fines of no more than $125,000 and up to 5 years in jail. But dumping carries a heavy burden of proof. Plus, under international dumping laws, the US Navy has immunity. Though this is not true under national law, it seems unlikely that the Federal government will fine their own military over something as minor as this.


Read the article here

Learn more about the MPRSA here


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