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DIMENSIONS OF THE CHALLENGE AND U.S. PROGRESS 23 Data from beach cleanups also seem to reflect a slight improvement, although this evidence is soft because the cleanups were not designed to monitor Annex V compliance. Plastic debris is an indicator of Annex V compliance because virtually all overboard discharges of this material are prohibited. Surveys by the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC) found that, in 1989, 60.5 percent of the items found on U.S. coasts were plastic (O'Hara and Younger, 1990); in 1993, the percentage was slightly lower at 53.2 (the rates for individual states from 38.7 percent to 79.7 percent) (Bierce and O'Hara, 1994). On the other hand, a federal beach monitoring project has not detected any improvement. This 5-year beach monitoring pilot program by the National Park Service, which focused on different beaches and employed a different methodology than did CMC, indicated that plastics consistently make up about 90 percent of debris items (Cole et al., 1992). It is important to recognize that, while beach litter may convince the public that marine debris is a problem, the condition of beaches does not necessarily reflect garbage disposal practices on vessels. Vessels are only part of the marine debris problem. A significant amount of debris originates from land-based sources, including beach goers, wastewater treatment plants, rivers, and combined sewer overflows and storm drains. Case Histories Because it is difficult to detect overall trends and progress in controlling vessel garbage, case histories may provide the best portrait of U.S. experiences with Annex V implementation. The selected examples presented here serve not only to illustrate the range and results of past and ongoing efforts, but also to suggest possible model elements of an effective national implementation strategy. U.S. Navy Compliance The Navy operates the largest U.S.-flag fleet. The Navy estimates that its ships discharged more than 2,000 metric tons (MT) (4.5 million pounds [lbs.]) of plastic into the oceans each year until 1988. Through leadership and aggressive use of its command organization as well as the willingness of individual crew members, the Navy has made a comprehensive effort to comply with the MPPRCA on its surface combatant fleet. Among its activities, the Navy has established dialogue with outside critics and overseers in the design of its compliance plan, mounted a research and development (R&D) effort to design on-board garbage treatment technology, and instituted a number of progressive policies. Significant progress has been made, but critics note that, even after spending tens of millions of dollars, the Navy still lacks a plan for achieving full compliance (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1994a, 1994b).
DIMENSIONS OF THE CHALLENGE AND U.S. PROGRESS 24 To guide the compliance effort, an external advisory committee was created so that Annex V implementation ideas could be discussed in a non- confrontational setting. Participants included senior congressional staff and representatives of environmental groups. The Keystone Center, a dispute resolution organization, was hired to run the committee independent of the Navy. Committee discussions assisted in the initial design of a compliance program that took into account both congressional and environmental concerns, while simultaneously compelling Navy personnel to articulate the challenges involved. The Navy heeded the ad hoc committee's advice and honored the agreements made. Among other things, the decision to reject the use of shipboard incinerators as a permanent solution for disposing of plastics was a result of a consensus-based decision by the committee to avoid combustion technologies that might pollute the air (Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on Plastics, 1988). This decision may warrant reconsideration, however, because it was not based on scientific or engineering investigations and no waste management officials were involved. Moreover, political and technical considerations have changed in the past few years (see Chapters 4 and 5). Shipboard equipment developed by the Navy beginning in 1979 is expected to enable the fleet to eliminate entirely the discharge of plastics at sea. Heavy-duty solid waste pulpers, small pulpers, metal and glass shredders, and an entirely new device, the plastic waste processor, have been developed. The current focus of the R&D program is the formal testing and evaluation of the plastics processor, so that fleetwide installation can begin in 1995. Testing and evaluation of the pulpers and shredders are in the final stages, but the Navy has no plans to install this equipment because it would not enable compliance with special area mandates. (This issue is discussed further in Chapter 4.) In sum, considerable attention has been devoted to development of on-board technology to support Annex V compliance, although none of the garbage treatment equipment has been installed permanently on ships to date, and the Navy continues to discharge some plastics overboard. To limit plastics discharges until shipboard equipment can be installed, the Navy invoked several operational changes. Crews now separate out plastic garbage at the source and keep it on board for as long as vessel sanitation and crew habitability can tolerate it. Field trials beginning in 1988 demonstrated that uncompacted, food-contaminated plastic could sit in an unrefrigerated storage locker for a maximum of three days before the stench became intolerable. Clean, uncompacted plastic materials could be collected and retained on board so long as there was storage space anywhere on the shipâabout 20 days. When the "3-day/20-day" rule was adopted, dramatic amounts of material piled up on Navy ships, destined for shoreside reception facilities. This simple procedural shift is believed to have reduced overboard discharges of plastic by 70 percent (Chitty, 1989), to 612.4 MT (1.35 million lbs.) per year. Although the 3/20 rule initially