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MARPOL Rules and Ship-Generated Waste

European Union
Complete with results
Project Acronym
STRIA Roadmaps
Network and traffic management systems (NTM)
Transport mode
Waterborne icon
Transport policies
Environmental/Emissions aspects


Background & Policy context

The operation of ships has the potential for polluting the marine environment. The potential is reduced if there are adequate facilities on board to manage waste effectively and adequate and convenient facilities ashore to receive the waste when the ship reaches port. Such waste management systems will only be implemented if suitable regulation and control measures exist.

The MARPOL 73/78 regulations implement the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, and define measures to protect the marine environment from operational pollution. A series of annexes (I - V) cover pollution by oil, noxious liquids, harmful substances in packaged form, sewage and garbage. Annex VI, which has been adopted recently but not yet entered into force, aims at extending the regulations to cover air pollution from ships. These regulations have been developed over a number of years and are in place, but there is significant concern over their real workability.


EMARC aimed to assess the effects of the MARPOL regulations on the port environment throughout Europe, and to investigate present and future systems for the management of ships' waste both ashore and afloat. The project sought to provide answers to specific questions:

  • What are the perceived waste management needs of vessels?
  • What sorts of waste management systems are now in operation, in ports, on ships and at the ship-shore interface?
  • What constraints hinder their operation, and what improvements might be made?
  • What environmental benefits can be measured?


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
European Commission; Directorate-General for Energy and Transport (DG TREN; formerly DG VII)
Type of funding
Public (EU)


Evidence collated by EMARC indicates that the MARPOL regulations are having a positive effect on the marine environment, although data are sparse. For example, oil pollution decreased by 60% in the 1980s. However, beach litter may have worsened subsequent to MARPOL.

Current environmental data are well intentioned but too fragmented for firm conclusions to be drawn. National statistics from ports are needed in a comprehensive and standardised form. In addition, the accurate reporting of annual totals for each MARPOL Annex would be a major step forward. This standardisation of recording and reporting on a long-term common basis, both afloat and ashore, is essential if the full impact of MARPOL and its degree of enforcement are to be assessed.

An extensive survey of shipping companies and ports highlighted the need for communications between the various parties in the waste management chain to be improved, if the regulations are to work cost-effectively and efficiently. This can be achieved relatively simply by ensuring that the ship reports its requirements, this is acknowledged by the port and the information is passed on to the waste contractor. Measures such as the implementation of 'port waste management plans' would set the framework for such a communications system.

A conceptual model of the working of the MARPOL regulations has been developed. This is designed to help legislators assess the potential implications of a new rule or constraint in the shipping/port operational system.

Policy implications

EMARC concluded that improving and evaluating the implementation of MARPOL requires actions at a European level to:

  • establish criteria for assessing the environmental impact of the regulations, and to provide common standards and databases for reporting quantities of waste;
  • require all ports to prepare waste management plans;
  • set up a system of independent audits of port reception facilities;
  • establish common standards and procedures for beach monitoring campaigns and definition of beach litter sources.

In this respect, the Commission has already presented a proposal for a Council Directive on Port Reception Facilities for Ship-generated Waste and Cargo Residues, (COM(98)452).


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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