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Hastings International and Comparative Law Review

Abstract

Located midway between Hawaii and California, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a vast soup of plastic and other garbage from land- and ship-based sources. Plastics are the primary component of this mass and wreck havoc on marine animal populations and present a serious threat to human health.

Regulating this debris dumped from cargo ships at an international level presents numerous challenges. The immensity of the ocean and the lack of state jurisdiction beyond 200 miles off the coast make effective enforcement of plastics dumping regulations very challenging. The current regulatory system essentially leaves compliance with international standards up to the good will of the captain of the ship. Enforcement and compliance are delegated to individual states, and regulated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Although IMO has enacted many rules, violators are not incentivized to comply, and largely feel free to discharge without fear of being caught.

Ensuring compliance with international conventions will not involve direct enforcement of plastics dumping. Rather, compliance will require working with member nations on a regional level to establish incentives for compliance on the part of shipowners and operators. This Note will assert that IMO should create a centralized information clearinghouse for port state inspections, place pressure on states under which ships are registered (flag states) to disseminate educational information to sailors, and encourage member states to publish garbage dumping fees to work against the current race-to-the-bottom effect among port operators.

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