CASE NUMBER:   443
     CASE NAME:     U.S. Navy SEAWASTE Case

I. Identification

1. The Issue

Throughout maritime history waste of all kinds was dumped overboard from commercial and military ships without regard for what effect dumping would have on the oceans and the creatures that lived within them. The problem only worsened as industrialization took place in the late 19th and early 20th century as ships and their crews began to produce more waste that was increasingly harmful to the environment. The ramifications of dumping waste in the ocean were not realized until the latter half of the 20th century when environmentalists made it in issue. Military vessels are among the biggest offenders when it comes to the dumping of solid waste in the ocean. For example, a U.S. Nimitz class nuclear carrier--with a crew of 5,000-- produces 34 million litres of untreated liquid waste and 16 tons of plastic waste every 30 days.

A Nimitz Class Nuclear Carrier

2. Description

In 1973, the United States and other maritime nations signed the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (referred to as MARPOL). The treaty regulates what type and where waste can be dumped overboard. Specifically, Annex Five, which entered into force in 1988, prohibits the discharge of paper, cardboard, metal, and glass near an in "special areas" and prohibits the dumping of plastic anywhere. The "special areas" where nothing but food waste can be dumped are the Baltic Sea, North Sea, and Antarctica. The Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Caribbean are expected to be added in the future.

Although military vessels were exempted from MARPOL due to space and signature (more machinery generates more noise and heat, things ship commanders, especially those on submarines like to minimize) considerations, the U.S. Congress passed legislation in 1987 that required the Navy to comply with Annex Five of the international Treaty. The legislation mandated that the Navy must take action to fully comply with Annex Five by 1993. However, the Navy failed to meet that goal and was given an extension to comply until 1998.

The Navy has faced an uphill battle since Congress passed the MARPOL compliance legislation in 1987. First, in general, compliance creates a whole host of issues for naval architects and planners to deal with. The installation of waste processing machinery on naval vessels creates problems in terms of space and vibration. Machinery takes up valuable space but more importantly--especially on submarines, which are treated as ships in MARPOL, that rely on being silent in the water--machinery creates vibration and noise that increases the likelihood of detection by other ships. Another consideration that impacted how the Navy dealt with the waste issue was where waste, if not thrown overboard, would be kept on the ship until it could be off loaded on shore. It is illegal to store waste in the same area as food so most refrigerated areas are off-limits as holding areas. A final consideration is the amount of heat an incinerator or similar system would give off. A large heat source on a ship would provide a ripe target for an infrared seeker on a missile.

The Navy has also been accused of procrastinating with respect to MARPOL compliance. An August 1994 GAO report said that "the service knew from the start it couldn't meet the 1993 deadline but, waited to report this until the last moment. The Navy argued bureaucratic entanglements and the change in administration delayed a report that was essentially ready in early 1992." In the report, the GAO argues that the Navy was trying to develop its own waste management systems when similar commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology was available. However, Capt. Richard Steinbrugge of the Civil Engineers Corps told GAO that existing commercial systems did not meet the Navy's needs due to "weight, space, accessibility, repair requirements...[and] on a Navy ship acoustics are important, an issue commercial waste systems didn't take into consideration."

The Navy's original plan to deal with MARPOL was two-fold. First, it would shred non- food waste such as cardboard and waste into a slurry and pump the waste overboard. Glass and metal would have been shredded and dumped in zones not covered by MARPOL. However, at least one environmental group demanded a "zero-discharge" policy in special areas. As a result, the Navy did not pursue pulping and shredding technology. At present, the Navy is still searching for an adequate solution to deal with disposal of non-food waste that does not include plastic.

Among the options the Navy is considering to deal with the disposal of plastic and glass are plasma arc, pulsed plasma arc, molten salt destruction, and ram-jet incineration technology. The French company Aerospatiale has developed a plasma torch to "vitrify" waste materials into a glassy, sterile material that can be stored. A plasma torch incinerator on an aircraft carrier would have a footprint of 10 by 10 feet so space would not be an issue. A carrier would probably require several of the systems to deal with the large amount of waste produced by a crew of 5,000. NATO, for its part, in 1992 established the Special Working Group to look into the feasibility of an "environmentally sound warship."

The disposal of plastic waste is, however, a success story for the Navy. Engineers at the Naval Surface Warfare Center division in Carderock, Md. have developed technology that "shreds, heats, and compresses all plastics and spits out a disc in which the waste's volume is shrunk 30 times. The disc can be stored easily, and possibly recycled." Besides use on U.S. Navy ships, the Canadian Navy, cruise lines, and Caribbean nations with limited landfills have shown interest in the plastic waste disposal system. The development of the system went from a research and development (R&D) project to an acquisition program when the Navy, in August of 1995, awarded two contracts worth a total of $13 million to Westinghouse Electric Corp and Universal Technologies for production of the systems for surface ships. The USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), the Navy's newest Nimitz class aircraft carrier, was the first ship to take advantage of the new technology when it was launched in 1996.

USS John C. Stennis Ship's Seal

3.Related Cases:





Key words (1): WASTE (2): OCEAN (3): WATER

4. Author: Brian Shannon Date: June 30, 1997

II. Legal Clusters

5. Discourse and Status: [AGREE]ment and [COMP]lete The International Maritime Organization's International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution of Ships (referred to as MARPOL) was enacted in 1973 by the U.S. and other maritime nations. Based on the number of signatories to the Treaty it appears that there is a broad consensus on the issue of waste dumping in the oceans. Of even greater significance, Congress passed legislation in 1987 that forced the Navy to comply with MARPOL guidelines by 1993. The Navy missed that deadline and was granted an extension until 1998. The U.S. Navy is alone in its attempt to comply with MARPOL.

6. Forum and Scope:[UNI]lateral and [MULTI]lateral The Navy was forced to comply with the multilateral MARPOL treaty by a law enacted by the unilaterally by the U.S. Congress.

7. Decision Breadth:MARPOL Annex I/II: 99 Annex III: 80 Annex IV: 65 Annex V: 82 Each Annex is associated with a certain type of waste.

8. Legal Standing:TREATY

III. Geographic Clusters

9. Geographic Locations

a. Geographic Domain: [GLOBAL]

b. Geographic Site: [GLOBAL]

c. Geographic Impact: [GLOBAL]

10. Sub-National Factors:NO

11. Type of Habitat: [OCEAN]

IV. Trade Clusters

12. Type of Measure:[REGBAN]

13. Direct v. Indirect Impacts:[IND]irect

14. Relation of Trade Measure to Environmental Impact

a. Directly Related to Product: NO

b. Indirectly Related to Product: YES TRANSPORT

c. Not Related to Product: N/A

d. Related to Process: NO POLLUTION SEA [POLS]

15. Trade Product Identification:YES TRANSPORT

16. Economic Data The Navy would have to spend $1.2 billion to equip its fleet with garbage incinerators or $1.1 billion to install trash compactors in all of its ships. Alternatively, it would cost the Navy $300 million to install pulpers and shredders, an alternative the Navy preferred. Beyond firms having to hire new employees to build waste management systems for the Navy, there is little economic impact of the MARPOL treaty or the U.S. legislation.

17. Impact of Trade Restriction:LOW

18. Industry Sector:WASTE

19. Exporters and Importers:USA and MANY

V. Environment Clusters

20. Environmental Problem Type: Pollution at Sea [POLS]

21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species: N/A




22. Resource Impact and Effect:[HIGH] and [REGUL]atory

23. Urgency of Problem:LOW and 100s of years

24. Substitutes:RECYCLING

VI. Other Factors

25. Culture:NO The Navy, however, is historically resistant to change so its reluctance to comply with MARPOL is not surprising. The need to give up room on a ship to waste management systems that take up valuable space, generate noise, and increase the ship's heat signature in the name of environmental protection is a concept that probably has not been well received by the leadership of the Navy.

26. Human Rights:NO

27. Trans-Border:NO

28. Relevant Literature

"Pulper/Shredder Measures Offered," Defense Cleanup Vol. 7 (May 24,

"Navy Takes Step Closer to MARPOL Compliance," Navy News and
Undersea Technology Vol. 12, No. 32 (August 21, 1995).      

"Aerospatiale Puts the Torch to Shipboard Waste," Navy News and
Undersea Technology, Vol. 12, No. 17 (May 1, 1995).    

"GAO insists on Navy Ship Waste," Navy News and Undersea
Technology, Vol 11, No. 47 (December 5, 1997).    

"Navy Says It's Green," Navy News and Undersea Technology, Vol. 11,
(September 12, 1994).    

"New Environmental Laws Create New Technology Requirements for
Navy," Marine Technology News, Vol. 1, No. 5 (November 17, 1993). 

Pengelley, "Cleaning up the Act, the Environmentally Sound
Warship," Jane's Navy International, Vol. 101, No. 10 (December 1,
1996) 10-14. 

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