Garbage pollution

picture of a turtle tangled in netGarbage includes all kinds of food wastes, domestic wastes and operational wastes, all plastics, cargo residues, incinerator ashes, cooking oil, fishing gear, and animal carcasses generated during the normal operation of the ship. Garbage, including everyday items such as cigarette butts, plastic bags, bottles, cans and discarded fishing gear, are common causes of marine pollution.

These objects, whether discarded intentionally, or simply blown overboard, contribute to increasing pressures on marine ecosystems. Most of our garbage today is made from non-biodegradable products such as plastic, which persists in the marine environment for potentially thousands of years.

Garbage is hazardous to marine life and other users of our waterways. Marine animals and sea birds can mistake plastic material for food, and often end up dying a slow and painful death from starvation or strangulation. 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 repairs.

All boat operators need to manage the use and disposal of all garbage generated aboard correctly. Simple measures can help protect marine wildlife and save you the embarrassment and cost of a fine.
Types of waste that need to be disposed of properly include:

  • food waste including scraps
  • 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 pollutants into the marine environment, which is an offence under Queensland legislation. Best practice management suggests the following tips to minimise your potential impact on the marine environment:

  • conduct major maintenance activities on land or at a commercial slipway
  • use environmentally friendly 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 garbage entering our waterways through the following actions:

  • don’t throw anything overboard
  • have secure bins or garbage bags to store garbage on-board until you return to shore
  • use crockery or re-useable plates and cutlery instead of disposable products to minimise waste
  • make the effort to retrieve lost or damaged fishing gear
  • if garbage does end up in the water, take the time to retrieve it
  • don’t abandon crab pots, as floats and lines can entangle wildlife and foul boat propellers
  • report all incidents of marine pollution.

If shore facilities are not adequate for the disposal of your garbage, let the marina operator or port authority know. Communication of these concerns may lead to the upgrade of the facilities.

Garbage 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 disposal of garbage from a ship into Queensland's coastal waters can incur significant fines.
Maximum penalty is 3500 penalty units.

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 Science on 1300 130 372 and select the option to report a pollution incident.

Recent changes to Queensland’s marine pollution legislation

The legislative requirements for garbage management in the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Regulation 2018 have changed to align with national and international requirements. The changes affect Shipboard Waste Management Plans, exemptions for disposal of garbage and align with the definitions of garbage types.

For consistency with national and international standards, the minimum requirements for a Shipboard Waste Management Plan have been set.

Garbage discharge regulations have been tightened with limited exemptions for the disposal of food wastes, cargo residues, animal carcasses, and cleaning agents or additives that are not harmful to the marine environment. 

The following definitions and terms related to garbage have been updated to align with the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL):

  • food wastes means any spoiled or unspoiled food substances and includes fruits, vegetables, dairy products, poultry, meat products and food scraps generated aboard ship
  • relevant platform means a fixed or floating structure located at sea that is engaged in the exploration, exploitation or associated offshore processing of seabed mineral resources
  • the term vegetable oils has changed to vegetable oils, animal fats, and fish oils.

Reporting marine pollution

Contact your local Maritime Safety Queensland regional office.

Last updated
23 January 2023