Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships

Regulations for the prevention of pollution by garbage from ships are contained in Annex V of MARPOL.

Background of MARPOL Annex V

Garbage from ships can be just as deadly to marine life as oil or chemicals.

The greatest danger comes from plastic, which can float for years. Fish and marine mammals can in some cases mistake plastics for food and they can also become trapped in plastic ropes, nets, bags and other items - even such innocuous items as the plastic rings used to hold cans of beer and drinks together.

It is clear that a good deal of the garbage washed up on beaches comes from people on shore - holiday-makers who leave their rubbish on the beach, fishermen who simply throw unwanted refuse over the side - or from towns and cities that dump rubbish into rivers or the sea. But in some areas most of the rubbish found comes from passing ships which find it convenient to throw rubbish overboard rather than dispose of it in ports.

For a long while, many people believed that the oceans could absorb anything that was thrown into them, but this attitude has changed along with greater awareness of the environment. Many items can be degraded by the seas - but this process can take months or years.

Persuading people not to use the oceans as a rubbish tip is a matter of education - the old idea that the sea can cope with anything still prevails to some extent but it also involves much more vigorous enforcement of regulations such as MARPOL Annex V.


MARPOL Annex V seeks to eliminate and reduce the amount of garbage being discharged into the sea from ships. Unless expressly provided otherwise, Annex V applies to all ships, which means all ships of any type whatsoever operating in the marine environment, from merchant ships to fixed or floating platforms to non-commercial ships like pleasure crafts and yachts.

Although the Annex is optional1, it did receive a sufficient number of ratifications to enable entry into force on 31 December 1988.  Today, more than 150 Countries have signed up to MARPOL Annex V.

MARPOL Annex V generally prohibits the discharge of all garbage into the sea, except as provided otherwise in regulations 4, 5, and 6 of the Annex, which are related to food waste, cargo residues, cleaning agents and additives and animal carcasses. An overview of the MARPOL Annex V discharge provisions can be accessed here. Exceptions with respect to the safety of a ship and those on board and accidental loss are contained in regulation 7 of Annex V

Under MARPOL Annex V, garbage includes all kinds of food, domestic and operational waste, all plastics, cargo residues, incinerator ashes, cooking oil, fishing gear, and animal carcasses generated during the normal operation of the ship and liable to be disposed of continuously or periodically. Garbage does not include fresh fish and parts thereof generated as a result of fishing activities undertaken during the voyage, or as a result of aquaculture activities.

To assist Governments, ships and port operators in implementing relevant requirements under MAPROL Annex V, MEPC has developed and adopted the Guidelines for the implementation of MARPOL 
Annex V, known as a living document, the latest of which is resolution MEPC.295(71).

Port reception facilities

The effectiveness of ships to comply with the discharge requirements of MARPOL depends largely upon the availability of adequate port reception facilities, especially within special areas. Hence, MARPOL Annex V also obliges Governments to ensure the provision of adequate reception facilities at ports and terminals for the reception of garbage without causing undue delay to ships, and according to the needs of the ships using them.

As provided in regulation 8.3, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) could satisfy the requirements for providing adequate port reception facilities through regional arrangements when, because of those States' unique circumstances, such arrangements are the only practical means to satisfy these requirements. Parties participating in a regional arrangement must develop a Regional Reception Facility Plan, taking into account the guidelines developed by IMO2.

Special areas

The special areas established under Annex V are:

  • the Mediterranean Sea area
  • the Baltic Sea area
  • the Black Sea area
  • the Red Sea area
  • the Gulfs area
  • the North Sea area
  • the Wider Caribbean Region and
  • the Antarctic area.
  • These are sea areas where for recognized technical reasons relating to their oceanographic and ecological condition and the particular character of traffic, such as heavy maritime traffic, low water exchange, extreme ice states, endangered marine species, etc., the adoption of special mandatory methods for the prevention of marine pollution by garbage is required.

Port State control

Provisions to extend port State control to cover operational requirements as regards prevention of marine pollution were adopted in 1994 and entered into force on 3 March 1996. Like similar amendments to the other MARPOL Annexes, regulation 9 of Annex V makes it clear that port State control officers can inspect a foreign-flagged ship at a port or an offshore terminal of its State "where there are clear grounds for believing that the master or crew are not familiar with essential shipboard procedures relating to the prevention of pollution by garbage".


Regulation 10.1 also requires every ship of 12 metres in length or over and every fixed or floating platform to display placards notifying passengers and crew of the disposal requirements of the Annex; these placards should be written in the working language of the ship's crew and also in English, French or Spanish for ships travelling to other States' ports or offshore terminals.

Garbage management plan

All ships of 100 gross tonnage and above, every ship certified to carry 15 persons or more, and every fixed or floating platform must carry a garbage management plan on board, which includes written procedures for minimizing, collecting, storing, processing and disposing of garbage, including the use of the equipment on board (regulation 10.2). The garbage management plan must designate the person responsible for the plan and be written in the working language of the crew. Resolution MEPC.220(63) provides the 2012 Guidelines for the development of garbage management plans.

Garbage Record Book

Implementation and enforcement is also the focus of regulation 10.3, which requires all ships of 100 gross tonnage and above and every ship which is certified to carry 15 persons or more engaged in voyages to ports and offshore terminals under the jurisdiction of another Party to the Convention and every fixed or floating platform to be provided with a Garbage Record Book and to record all disposal and incineration operations.

The date, time, position of the ship, description of the garbage and the estimated amount incinerated or discharged must be logged and signed. The Garbage Record Book must be kept for a period of two years after the date of the last entry. This regulation does not in itself impose stricter requirements - but it makes it easier to check that the regulations on garbage are being adhered to as it means ship personnel must keep track of the garbage and what happens to it. It could also prove an advantage to a ship when local officials are checking the origin of discharged garbage - if ship personnel can adequately account for all their garbage, they are unlikely to be wrongly penalised for discharging garbage when they have not done so. Appendix 2 of MARPOL Annex V provides a standard form for a Garbage Record Book.

Cargo residues

Cargo residues are defined as the remnants of any cargo which are not covered by other Annexes to the present Convention and which remain on deck or in holds following loading or unloading. They include loading and unloading excess or spillage, whether in wet or dry condition or entrained in wash water, but do not include cargo dust remaining on deck after sweeping or dust on the external surfaces of the ship (regulation 1.2 of Annex V). In addition to this definition, MARPOL Annex V also stipulates that only those cargo residues that cannot be recovered using commonly available methods for unloading could be considered for discharge.

A simplified overview of the regulations regarding the discharge of cargo residues under MARPOL Annex V can be accessed here. As a general rule, cargo residues which contain substances classified as harmful to the marine environment (HME) must not be discharged at sea, but have to be taken to port reception facilities. Regarding the discharge of cargo residues which do not contain any HME substances, the Annex establishes different requirements depending on whether they are contained in wash water or not.

Solid bulk cargoes must be classified and declared by the shipper as to whether or not they are harmful to the marine environment, in accordance with the criteria set out in appendix 1 of MARPOL Annex V.

Shipboard incinerator

The Standard Specification for Shipboard Incinerators (resolution MEPC.244(66)) covers the design, manufacture, performance, operation and testing of incinerators designed to incinerate garbage and other shipboard waste.

Verification of compliance

Chapter 2 of MARPOL Annex V provides that Parties must use the provisions of the Code for Implementation in execution of their obligations and responsibilities, and be subject to the IMO Member State Audit Scheme (IMSAS) in accordance with the audit standard to verify compliance with and implementation of the Annex. The mandatory IMSAS commenced from 1 January 2016,

Polar Regions

Chapter 3 of MARPOL Annex V makes use of the environment-related provisions of the Polar Code mandatory, and requires that ships trading the Polar Regions must comply with strict environmental provisions specific to the harsh conditions in Polar waters – the Arctic waters and the Antarctic area.

List of amendments to MARPOL Annex V

No. Resolution Adoption Deemed acceptance Entry into force
1MEPC.36(28)17 Oct. 198917 Aug. 199018 Feb. 1991
2MEPC.42(30)16 Nov. 199016 Sept. 199117 Mar. 1992
3MEPC.48(31)4 Jul. 19914 Oct. 19924 Apr. 1993
4Resolution 33
2 Nov. 19943 Sept. 19953 Mar. 1996
5MEPC.65(37)14 Sept. 19951 Jan. 19971 Jul. 1997
6MEPC.89(45)5 Oct. 20001 Sept. 20011 Mar. 2002
7MEPC.116(51)1 April 20041 Feb. 20051 Aug. 2005
8MEPC.201(62)15 Jul. 20111 July. 20121 Jan. 2013
9MEPC.216(63)2 Mar. 20121 Feb. 20131 Aug. 2013
10MEPC.246(66)4 Apr. 20141  Jul. 20151 Jan. 2016
11MEPC.265(68)15 May 20151 Jul. 20161 Jan. 2017
12MEPC.277(70)28 Oct. 20161 Sept. 20171 Mar. 2018
13MEPC.314(74)17 May 20191 April 20201 Oct. 2020
14MEPC.360(79)16 Dec. 20221 Nov. 20231 May 2024

1 See Article 14 (1) of MARPOL: “A State may at the time of signing, ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to the present Convention declare that it does not accept any one or all of Annexes III, IV and V (hereinafter referred to as “Optional Annexes”) of the present Convention. Subject to the above, Parties to the Convention shall be bound by any Annex in its entirety."

2 Refer to the 2012 Guidelines for the development of a Regional Reception Facilities Plan (resolution MEPC.221(63)).

3 Resolution 3 of the Conference of Parties to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto.