Call for IMO to ban single-use plastic bottles at sea

A call has been made for the International Maritime Organization to regulate against the use of single-use plastic bottles onboard.

Captain Naveen Singhal from Singapore-based JAG Consultants has highlighted the issue in articles submitted for in-house magazines published recently by the Singapore Shipping Association, the Nautical Institute and shipmanager Anglo-Eastern.

Singhal has argued for a regulation to curb single-use plastic bottles at the “generation stage” –the procurement and consumption of water in plastic bottles. Guidance and control measures on potable water, tanks, piping, purification, testing and dispensing would make this a robust process that would be in the interest of seafarers’ health, their well-being, and that of the environment as well, Singhal has suggested.

Shipowners are obliged to provide clean potable water, under the Maritime Labour Convention. Singhal believes most owners would gladly adopt his suggested changes to reduce the financial burden of purchasing and disposing of plastic bottles. The consumption and disposal of water from plastic bottles costs an owner around $14,000 a year per ship, according to JAG Consultants analysis.

The weight of an empty bottle is about 12.7 g. Assuming a modest consumption of 24 bottles of water on a vessel per day, Singhal has worked out that the plastic bottle waste generated by one merchant ship would be 305 g per day or 110 kg per ship per year. The estimated 50,000 SOLAS ships worldwide would therefore be responsible for 5,500 tonnes of plastic bottle waste a year.

“If we assume that just 5% of these water bottles are disposed of overboard, either intentionally or inadvertently, in contravention of MARPOL Annex 5, ships will be contributing 395 metric tonnes of plastic to the oceans every year,” Singhal wrote in a widely republished article.

With a seafarer strength of about 25 on each cargo vessel, a company is likely to spend roughly $10,000 per ship per year on bottled water, according to JAG Consultants, and another $4,000 per ship per year to dispose of the empty bottles.

“In the next few years the cost of disposal is certain to rise sharply as more countries implement strict anti-plastic regimes,” Singhal warned.

Many shipping companies are moving away from plastic drinking bottles onboard.

For instance, an ongoing campaign at Anglo-Eastern highlighting the health and environmental hazards posed by single-use plastic is edging the group closer to the goal of a plastic-free ship.

Japanese shipowner NYK meanwhile has installed special filters for drinking water onboard all its ships. Members of ship staff consume filtered water from designated drinking water tanks.

Likewise, all Fednav vessels have been fitted out with mineralisers and stainless steel bottles are being issued to crew.

According to a BBC report, about 8m tonnes of plastic enter the oceans each year. If deposition continues rising at current rates, the annual total could reach 17.5m tonnes by 2025.

Figures from the International Bottled Water Association show that only 23.4% of plastic bottles are recycled.


Photo: Matthias Ristau, Deutsche Seemannsmission.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. $10k per ship per year – wow! You’d think you could look to install some water purification into the build price for an overall saving over the first few years of operation?

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