Cruise Ships Wrestle with Tons of Waste

Photo by Ross Cobb

What happens on cruise ships doesn’t always stay on cruise ships.

In fact, in Miami, one of the largest cruise ports in the world, the waste that gets expelled from these huge ships is pushing some ocean lines to reinvent how their floating cities treat the environment.

At stake is what to do with seven tons of solid waste each day on each ship.

Ocean cruisers are exempt from provisions of the Clean Water Act, a status that permits them to handle several types of sewage – black water, gray water, bilge water and solid and hazardous waste – in a variety of ways.

Cruise ships are allowed to release treated sewage and gray water, which is waste water from dishwashers, sinks, showers and laundry, into the ocean. They are allowed to release the waste anywhere they wish except in Alaska, where a 2000 federal law prohibits such discharges.

Bilge water consists of fuel, oil, and wastewater from engines. The Oil Pollution Act limits cruise ship bilge discharge to no more than 100 parts per million of oil into the ocean. Several cruise line companies are required to have additional equipment that treats bilge water.

Cruise ships generate solid waste that includes large volumes of food waste, cans, glass, wood, paper and plastics.

The Marine Pollution Control Act bans cruise ships from dumping plastics anywhere, but they are permitted to dump garbage into the ocean if it has been ground into smaller pieces.

Hazardous waste comes from waste products of dry cleaning, batteries, paints and photo developing. Cruise ships are required to store these wastes onboard, and then dispose of them in onshore facilities.

Oceana is the largest of a number of international organizations working directly to protect the oceans and to conserve the marine environment. Oceana’s vision is to make the oceans rich, healthy and abundant as they once were.

“Rapid, diligent, concerted efforts based on sound science and good public policy are imperative to restore the health of our world’s oceans,” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s senior director of the Pacific. “We owe it to our children and their children to literally turn the tide on the fate of the oceans.”

The Royal Caribbean cruise line is installing Advanced Wastewater Purification systems to clean wastewater. At the end of the cleaning process, the wastewater meets wastewater discharge standards.

“AWP cleans the waste water to a very high standard,” said Paul D’Annunzio, Royal Caribbean’s environmental manager.

“We are installing these systems onboard that will cost over $150 million, none of which are required by law,” D’Annunzio said.

Royal Caribbean officials see it as a business investment for the future.

“Cruise destinations are often located in some of the most biologically rich, unique and sensitive places on Earth, and it is our responsibility to ensure that our actions and those of our guests do not unintentionally degrade the very places that make our product attractive and unique,” said Jamie Sweeting, Royal Caribbean’s vice president of environmental stewardship.

“It is no small task to make sure our guests and crew understand the importance of complying with onboard policies and procedures related to managing chemicals and waste streams,” Sweeting said. “The educational challenge is compounded because of the limited amount of time guests spend onboard and the fact that we must remember they are on vacation.”

Royal Caribbean is a member of the Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group of 26 cruise lines that promotes cruising to consumers and works with travel agents.

The association has an environmental committee that meets with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies to discuss issues related to compliance with environmental regulations.

“It’s tougher nowadays for cruise ships to bypass law,” said Raymond Scattone, an environmental studies professor at Florida International University. “Say a cruise ship spills waste in the ocean. There are now GPS systems on them, so the government can keep track.”

“So more cruise ships are more protective of what they do. Cruise ships store the waste and take it to disposal facilities on shore,” Scattone said. “It’s a lot better than it used to be and most cruise ships are following law and regulations.

“However, food waste is a big issue that still needs to be under control in cruise ships,” he said. “Most cruise ships have all-you-can-eat buffets.”

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9 responses to “Cruise Ships Wrestle with Tons of Waste”

  1. Danilali says:

    This is a great article, I was not aware that so much waste was released in the oceans by cruise ships. It is a concerning issue, especially now that our planet is suffering from many environmental challenges. I am very pleased to know that Jamie Sweeting, Royal Caribbean’s vice president is concerned about the ocean and is taking actions to keep the oceans clean. Hopefully, other cruise lines will open their eyes and do something about their waste.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is a truly intriguing article. It takes a subject that many take for granted and analyzes it at a whole new level. I’m sure not a single cruise ship passengers takes into account the waste they and their fellow passengers collectively create and where that waste goes. Although one person might not do much to change this, informing the public is certainly a start.

  3. Ashley McBride says:

    I think that there should definitely be stricter regulations on where cruise ships dump their waste, but it seems like the cruise ships realize of their own accord how bad it is for the environment to dump their waste into the ocean. More cruise ship lines should take the initiative like Royal Caribbean and attempt to purify their wastewater more before they get rid of it.

  4. Sierra Eboni says:

    Wow I knew that the waste from the cruise ships had to go somewhere but I never thought about where it was going. Also, I’m glad the Royal Carribean cruise line is stepping up to make things more environmentally friendly. And it’s true the places people are visiting when they go on cruises are the places that need to be protected the most from waste.

  5. Nsd says:

    Nice to see Royal Caribbean stepping up to the plate here. I’m not a tree-hugger by any means, but it’s shocking all this is coming out now. A cruise ship is like a car emitting exhaust fumes, it’s the same thing, and the ocean’s the road.

  6. D Vacca says:

    I believe that this article was an “eye-opener” as regards the relaxing point of view of taking a cruise. When we board into a cruise ship we’re already in paradise and the relaxation mode is on, so we tend to obviously forget about the logics, management and behind-the-scenes of a cruise ship.
    This article however was successful in showing us readers, the “dark” side that we do not usually see.
    I was attracted by this story because I have never before thought about this issue, and I was amazed about the contrast that taking a cruise entails. It shows us that a relaxing vacation can also be extremely harmful and polluting at the same time, and that we are not usually aware of it.
    I found really interesting and informative the sections in which the writer explains what each type of “water” is composed of, because I think these details are necessary for those of us who are not familiar with this topic.
    I think it’s good to have an important source of information, such as Royal Caribbean because it makes the article much more credible, attractive and interesting to read. And of course, I am really happy to see that some cruise lines are indeed trying to find a solution to water pollution coming from their ships, because the want to, and not because they are obliged to.

  7. bfreeland1 says:

    It is nice to know that the Royal Caribbean cruise line has installed systems to help prevent the incessant waste being deposited into our world’s oceans. Before reading this article, I had no idea that cruise lines were contributing to the large amount of waste found in Miami’s waters and in the waters of the world. I understand that cruise lines are meant for relaxation and vacation, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of our world’s oceans. Cruise lines need to become more aware of the part they play in the pollution of these oceans, and need to consider improving their methods of disposing waste, making them more environmentally friendly.

  8. Raelynn0608 says:

    im in Miami trick.

  9. Guest says:

    As much as I can appreciate and give kudos to Royal Caribbean cruise lines I think it’s important to take into consideration that they are one of MANY cruise lines. I feel that the reality is this: until we REQUIRE each and every cruise line to be responsible for their own waste. I’m sure they make plenty of $$$ to take care of this problem. As usual it comes down to the almighty dollar! WHY are cruise ships exempt from the Clean Water Act?? That’s a HUGE problem and unless and until THAT is addressed the problem of our oceans being bombarded with waste (as it is now) will never end. Source: