Managing Port and Shipping Waste Challenges and Best Practices


Friday, October 21, 2022


Policy Briefs


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This paper seeks to provide a review of the development of port sustainability in concept and in practice, with a specific focus on waste management systems within ports. The handling and treatment of ship waste discharge has evolved over time, as shipping has changed and as the understanding of the human impact on the environment has increased.

The general trend among international regulations surrounding waste is to shift it away from disposal at sea and towards disposal on land. There is also a trend towards increasing the efficiency and potentially recyclability of waste, meaning actions such as waste segregation are becoming increasingly important.

Such trends mean greater need at ports for efficient and effective waste management systems, which must receive increasing levels of waste from ships, even as the global shipping industry continues to expand. Waste management has become a key role of ports, with such waste needing to be removed from ships through port just like goods and passengers.

Efficient waste management provides a good service for ports with positive economic, environmental, and reputational benefits. Those with the best capacity to deal with a particular ship’s waste is more likely to see that ship call there. Ports which can rapidly shift waste will have quicker ship turnaround, decreasing wasted ship time and increasing port throughput.

At the same time, as waste management may prove an economic burden, imposing sanitary and safety concerns as well as more direct disposal costs, for both ports and shipping, it needs to take place within a robust regulatory and monitoring framework. Ports and ships working to meet established standards are at a disadvantage if others are avoiding compliance. As a result, improved sustainability is best achieved through broader engagement in developing regulations and monitoring and enforcement mechanisms through transparent stakeholder consultation including port authorities, shipping representatives, local communities living near the ports, and local and national authorities.


Around the world, there are many innovative practices to improve waste operations. Increased digitization allows for earlier notification of incoming waste, better monitoring of waste flows, and easier sharing and analysis of data. Improved segregation on both ships and in ports allows for waste to be more efficiently, and more effectively, treated. Some waste may even undergo minimal treatment while on ships. New waste fee structures accommodating such changes and other considerations are needed to create appropriate incentive structures.

As with regulations, innovations can benefit from enhanced cooperation among stakeholders. Ports can engage with governments and the private sector to prompt attention to shipping-related innovation. Mixed funding schemes, such as public-private partnerships, provide more opportunities for ports to improve and futureproof their activities.

As understanding and research and innovative technologies around waste management continue to increase, national and international expectations are likely to change with changing knowledge. At the same time, shipping volumes will likely keep rising as the global economy expands.

As a hub of the global shipping network, the fate of the seas of East Asia is intertwined with the sustainability of global shipping. While this will be a challenge, it also provides an opportunity, for the ports around these seas to become global leaders in port sustainability innovation.