International Regulation, Comparative and Contextual Perspectives
- New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series
Chapter 7: Disposal into the ocean
When it was impractical to incinerate or dump waste into the land, the ocean had always been the second best target. Whilst domestic restraints in this area began in the early part of the 20th century, international ones did not emerge until the end of the 20th century. The international restraints, as found through the 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Waste and Other Matter (the London Dumping Convention), were the subject of intense debate for over a decade, as the regime prohibited the dumping of only the most hazardous of substances. This approach was completely turned around in 1996 when a Protocol to that Convention reversed the assumption that it was safe to dump anything into the ocean. Now, only a few select waste streams may be deposited into the seas, and even then, under strict conditions. Traditionally, where waste was not burnt or dumped into the land it was disposed of into the ocean or rivers. When the stream of waste was small and relatively inert, it was a widely held belief that a few cartloads off a bridge, or a few bargeloads tipped into the ocean, would quickly be dissipated by the power and regenerative forces of the waterways. This was only considered to be a problem when waste was dumped too close to shore, or in the wrong tides, and tons of clotted, rotting flotsam would foul beaches, contaminate drinking sources or congregate around city piers.
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