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Garbage pollution

picture of a turtle tangled in netSome boat operators, deliberately or accidentally, throw their garbage into our waterways. Most of our garbage today is made from non-biodegradable products such as plastic, which persists in the marine environment for many years.

Garbage is hazardous to marine life and all users of the waterways.

Some marine animals and seabirds can mistake plastic material for food. Others become entangled in garbage causing a slow and painful death.

Ropes and plastic material can get caught in propellers and block water intakes causing major damage or even loss of income while a boat is out of service for expensive repairs.

All boat operators need to manage the use and disposal of all garbage generated onboard correctly.

picture of garbage floating behind a boat

Types of waste that need to be disposed of appropriately include:

  • food waste
  • paper products
  • rags
  • glass
  • metal
  • bottles
  • crockery
  • wire residues
  • fishing gear
  • nets
  • bait boxes
  • wood products
  • packaging material
  • deck sweepings
  • all plastics.

Paint scrapings and residues that enter the water from hull-maintenance activities are also classed as garbage pollution. If not properly controlled, hull-maintenance activities including scraping, sanding, pressure washing and painting can put toxic pollutants into the marine environment, which is an offence under Queensland legislation. Although hull-maintenance activities are not specifically administered by Maritime Safety Queensland, best practice suggests the following tips to minimise your potential impact on the marine environment:

  • Conduct major maintenance activities on land or in a commercial slipway.
  • Use less toxic substitutes such as phosphate-free and biodegradable soaps for cleaning.
  • Use alternatives to antifouling paints.
  • When conducting vessel maintenance that will generate sawdust, scrapings, paint chips, debris or drips and so on, use drop cloths to catch these by-products.
  • Mechanical sanders/scrapers equipped with vacuum bags are effective at removing paint in a way that prevents the spread of dust, debris and residue into the air and into the marine environment.
  • Dispose of all waste products and materials into appropriate receptacles.

Play your part

Boat operators can help prevent waste entering our waterways by:

  • not throwing anything overboard
  • having secure bins or garbage bags to store garbage onboard until you return to shore
  • buying stores in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging taken onboard
  • using reusable airtight containers to store foods and leave packaging at home
  • using crockery or reusable cups, plates and cutlery
  • making the effort to retrieve lost or damaged fishing gear
  • retrieving garbage if it does end in the water.

If shore facilities are not adequate for the disposal of your garbage, let the marina operator or port authority know. If enough people express concern the facilities may be upgraded.

Pollution is an offence

Whether your boat is large or small, it is an offence to deliberately (or negligently) discharge garbage into Queensland's coastal waters. Under the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Act 1995 severe penalties apply.

Everyone can help protect the marine environment by reporting pollution incidents to their local regional harbour master's office or port authority. If you see garbage entering the water as a result of shore-based hull-maintenance activities contact the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection on 1300 130 372 and select the second option.

New mandatory requirements for Garbage Management Plans

New international regulations requiring vessels and fixed or floating platforms to carry a Garbage Management Plan came into effect from 1 January 2013.

The new requirements are part of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which is in force in 151 countries and is applied in Australia by Commonwealth and State/NT legislation.

If you are the shipowner/operator of a commercial or recreational vessel that is over 100 tonnes gross weight, or the vessel is certified to carry 15 or more passengers, or operate a fixed or floating platform, you are now required to carry on board a Garbage Management Plan in accordance with the regulation.

Visit for more information including an example Garbage Management Plan and template which can be used when developing your plan.

Reporting marine pollution

Contact your local Maritime Safety Queensland regional office.

Last updated
24 August 2017