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How do cruise ships handle their waste?

On Behalf of | Nov 17, 2022 | Admiralty & Maritime Defense

Cruise ships carry millions of passengers around the world every year. As these passengers enjoy living on these ships, they create many types of waste.

U.S. and International environmental laws regulate how cruise ships manage sewage, food waste, trash. Improper disposal of any type of waste might result in lawsuits and heavy fines.


Trash accumulates quickly on cruise ships, so crews must handle it according to regulations. Crushers grind up items such as cardboard, paper and plastic for incineration or storage. Regulations allow cruise ships to dump the ash overboard. Items made of glass or aluminum get recycled or stored for disposal once the ship docks.


Wastewater from toilets contains viruses and bacteria, so there are strict regulations about where and how cruise ships can dump it. All ships carrying more than 15 passengers must have wastewater treatment equipment that neutralizes waste before releasing it into the ocean. According to the Clean Water Act, ships can not dump any untreated sewage within three miles of the coast. Additionally, there are several zones that do not permit any type of water dumping. However, ships more than three miles from land may dump raw sewage into the ocean.

Food waste

Unconsumed meals, spoiled food and scraps fill storage tanks on cruise ships. The food particles get combined with water to create a slurry. Cruise lines can dump the slurry into the ocean if they are more than three miles from ports.

Cruise ships contribute an exponential portion of ocean waste because of the number of people on board. Following the regulations ensures cruise lines protect the environment from harmful waste disposal practices.