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REPORT: 32 billion litres of waste dumped in BC coastal waters per year

May 14, 2024

Unceded Coast Salish Territories (VANCOUVER, BC) – As coastal B.C. ecosystems and local communities brace for the annual cruise ship season, holes in the Canadian Transport Ministry’s “Interim Order” on cruise ship pollution permit the dumping of 32 billion litres of waste into B.C.’s Coastal waters, according to a report by and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – BC Chapter (CPAWS-BC).

“Currently the holes in Transport Canada’s Interim Order permit 32 billion litres of sewage, ships’ waste to be dumped annually – the equivalent of half the world flushing a toilet into B.C.’s coastal waters” said Anna Barford, shipping campaigner with “The Transport Ministry has an opportunity to remedy this in June, however, by extending the application of cruise ship discharge regulations to the entirety of Canada’s territorial sea, prohibiting the use of scrubbers in Canada’s territorial waters, and putting into place regular, independent third-party monitoring while cruise ships are underway to ensure discharge requirements are met.”

Scrubbers are devices on ships to treat exhaust gasses. They take sulphur from fuel and dump it into the sea in the form of sludge, essentially turning air pollution into water pollution. Greywater is wastewater from toilets, sinks, showers and appliances, like dishwashers and laundry machines. It is a significant source of microplastics.

“The Great Bear Sea is home to many threatened and vulnerable species. The dumping of this much wastewater is a massive threat to the animals and plants that live there, such as orcas and humpback whales, as well as for the local communities that depend on the ocean,” says Kate MacMillan, conservation director for the ocean program at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – British Columbia Chapter.

Transport Canada issued an Interim order on June 9, 2023 which allow vessels to continue to discharge sewage, greywater and scrubber wastewater along the B.C. coast and inlets, while the entire Great Bear Sea, including the proposed Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network, is not protected from the dumping of scrubber wastewater.

“Additionally, this interim order seems to contradict Canada’s Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Protection Standard which looks to prohibit ocean dumping in MPAs. With an MPA Network being planned for the Great Bear Sea, the future health is being put at risk,” says MacMillan.

Approximately 35% of the proposed MPA Network is open to the discharge of untreated sewage and greywater through unregulated “toilet bowls,” according to the report. Additionally, specific geographic exemptions potentially permit the discharge of sewage and greywater along the entirety of the Great Bear Sea’s complex coastlines.

The report makes multiple recommendations such as legally requiring cruise ships to have holding tanks that are of adequate size and eliminating the exemption that permits cruise ships to discharge in areas where the shores are narrower than six nautical miles wide.

“Canada has a responsibility and moral obligation to prioritize protecting its coastal biodiversity, respect the rights of coastal First Nations, and to conserve the bounty and beauty of Canadian coasts for future generations,” concluded Barford.

Link to the report.


Anna Barford
Canada Shipping Campaigner
+1 604-757-7029

Kate MacMillan,
Conservation Director, Ocean Program
604-685-7445 x 6

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