When you think of recycling, ships may not be the first image that come to mind. In reality, ships represent an enormous amount of metal and hazardous waste associated with construction and demolition, making their eventual recycling of great importance.
In a week-long meeting that began May 11 in Hong Kong, governments gathered to determine measures to make ship recycling safer and more environmentally friendly. The conference, led by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), is aimed at developing an international convention on the recycling of ships.
The draft of the ship recycling convention was approved by The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of IMO in its July 2008 session. The convention will provide regulations for the design, construction, operation and preparation of ships in order to facilitate safe and environmentally sound recycling, according to IMO.
Issues being considered for regulation include controlling the amounts of hazardous materials used in ship construction and requiring old ships to be broken down in specific ship yards that meet environmental standards.
In a 2007 report, IMO estimated the average recycling demand of ships to be between 3,100-3,200 ships per year, more than 100 gross tons. Others have put the numbers of ships recycled each year closer to 1,000 as ships continue to be built for greater longevity.
The main ship recycling countries are Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and Turkey, where environmental and safety regulations aren’t always strictly enforced, leading to human deaths and oil and chemical spills into the environment.
The largest ship components salvaged for recycling are scrap steel and iron, the cost of which depends on the market and the country doing the recycling.
Critics of the proposed convention believe it lacks the effective measures required to enforce the ship recycling standards. One major flaw, critics believe, is that is fails to ban the act of beaching, a hazardous practice in which ships are beached on the shoreline and broken down. This is common practice in South Asia, but leads to hazardous chemical spills in the environment.