Waste Management on BoatsThe topic of waste management is an urgent concern of global proportions that spans the environment, public health and safety, and the economy. Communities are furthering efforts to “go green” as nations strive for global standards to control widespread pollution streaming into our waterways and air. For recreational boaters, the limited space, containment systems, and fact of “floating” create unique challenges for waste management.  From stowing and disposal to recycling methods, here are some important things to consider and strategies to help control waste on the water.

Trash Management on a Boat

Storage space on a boat is always at a premium, causing captains and crew to strive for better efficiency when stowing shipboard goods in lockers, cabinets, under seats, inside gunwales, and in any other watertight nook and cranny available. Storing domestic trash and waste materials must also be taken into consideration. Here are a few ways to reduce waste and its space.

Tips for Food and Packaging Waste on a Boat

  • Look for canned goods that have a removable top and bottom to allow for crushing after use. Always rinse out cans before throwing away to keep spoilage and odors at bay.
  • Break down boxes and store separately from trash bins. Boxes tear plastic bags easily and can quickly take up space. A paper grocery sack makes a perfect box collector, takes up little space and can be easily added to recycling efforts off-board.
  • Choose collapsible containers or bags for beverages, edibles, and ingredients. Quality zip-lock bags make fantastic airtight reusable storage savers and food preservers that can be filled with necessities before leaving port, reducing waste space underway.
  • Consider a countertop (deck top) water dispenser with built-in filter for drinking water that can be refilled at port to eliminate individual water bottle trash. Home improvement supercenters and office supply stores have many models to choose from.
  • Use two coolers on deck for beverages — one for cold and one for empties. Coolers are multi-functional, air tight to keep insects out, and easier to manage than a garbage bag in the corner filled with empty aluminum. Tip: Simply rinse the cooler out when finished for a no-mess, no-hassle recycling bin.
  • Dry-wipe plates and pans with discarded napkins or paper towel into a container instead of in general trash bin to reduce spoilage and odors. Empty chip bags, ingredient containers, and plastic grocery sacks can be compressed and sealed off before adding to trash.
  • Plan the menu with boating in mind; consider limitations on galley space, cooking implements, perishable storage, and ingredient packaging waste. Pre-prepare sauces, dips, salsas, and such ahead of time and bring aboard in zip-lock bags.   
  • Opt for smaller trash bags that are easier to stow. A mid-sized Rubbermaid tote with lid makes for a secure temporary refuse storage bin that can hold several small trash bags until returning to shore.

Debris, Discharge, and Legalities on Boats

Overboard Refuse

  • Annex V of MARPOL 73/78 prohibits throwing, discharging, or depositing any refuse matter of any kind (including trash, garbage, oil, and other liquid pollutants) into the water of the United States. 
  • While it is always illegal to dump any plastic trash anywhere in the oceans or navigable waters of the U.S., limited overboard refuse removal is permitted at certain distances off-shore as determined by the nature of the garbage.
  • However, please always consider that ALL items thrown overboard (whether permissible as off-shore dumping or not) is using our collective water as a trash can!

Pollution Regulation

  • Title 33 CFR 151/155 requires all oceangoing vessels 40 feet or more in length used in commerce or equipped with a galley and berthing to have a written waste management plan.
  • The captain of the vessel is responsible for ensuring that a written waste management plan is on board, and that each person handling garbage follows that plan.
  • The plan must describe the vessel’s procedures for collecting, processing, storing, and discharging garbage, and designate the person who is in charge of carrying out the plan.
  • Remember, garbage (including food waste) may not be thrown overboard on inland waters or in the ocean within three miles of land. Plastics may not be thrown overboard anywhere.
  • In addition, 33 CFR 151.59 requires that all vessels 26 feet or greater in length have a MARPOL Annex V placard at least four by nine inches prominently displayed notifying crew and passengers of discharge regulations regardless of whether your boat operates on inland waters or the ocean.

Marine Sanitation Devices

  • 33 CFR 159 states all marine vessels with installed toilet facilities must have a USCG approved and operable marine sanitation device (MSD) on board.  Vessels 65 feet and under can use a Type I or II MSD (flow through design) or Type III MSD (holding tank design). Vessels over 65 feet must use Type II or III MSD’s.
  • The discharge of treated sewage is allowed within 3 nautical miles of shore except in designated “No Discharge Zone” areas.
  • Untreated sewage may be discharged beyond 3 nautical miles of shore.

Discharge of Oil

  • The Federal Water Pollution Control Act prohibits the discharge of oil or oily waste upon or into any navigable waters of the United States.
  • This includes any discharge that produces a film or discoloration of the surface of the water, or causes a sludge or emulsion beneath the surface of the water.
  • Violators are subject to substantial civil and/or criminal sanctions, including fines and imprisonment.
  • The act requires all vessels with propulsion machinery to the capacity to clean up and contain oily mixtures on board and be equipped with a portable or fixed system to legally discharge the materials at an appropriate facility.

Waste Management on BoatsProper management and disposal of a vessels waste, both domestic and mechanical, is a serious responsibility. In addition to the inconveniences and logistic shuffle of goods aboard a boat with space limitations, federal regulations and responsible seamanship call for proper procedures to be in place and followed on U.S. water ways.