Waste Management & Recycling aboard the Robert C. Seamans

Waste stream management aboard seafaring vessels is complex due to the overlapping nature of international and national laws, health and safety concerns, and the ability of vessels to hold waste for extended periods of time. The examination of S-233’s waste management practices aboard the Robert C. Seamans provides an understanding of waste management aboard a Sea Education Association vessel. Over the voyage from Papetee, Tahiti to Honolulu, Hawai‘i the members of S-233 generated 20 cubic feet of recyclable metal and glass waste; 96 cubic feet of uncompressed non-recyclable plastic waste; and 1335 lbs of overboard food and paper waste. Looking at waste management and waste generation practices aboard the Robert C. Seamans can allow for future voyages to decrease overboard and non-recyclable waste and increase garbage recycled in their final port of call.

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) provides rules and regulations regarding the waste stream of vessels operating in international waters. Annex V of MARPOL, put into force in 1988, specifically deals with garbage and where different types of garbage can and cannot be disposed of. Annex V of MARPOL implemented a global ban on the disposal of all forms of plastic (IMO 2010). However, MARPOL and similar laws do not require or provide a structure for the recycling of plastic, glass, or metal waste aboard vessels.

The waste management plan aboard the Robert C. Seamans allows for disposal of all non-plastic garbage into the sea twelve-plus nautical miles offshore, in accordance with Annex of V MARPOL 73/78 (SEA 2001). Incorporating a recycling plan into the waste stream management plan of the Robert C. Seamans to decrease overboard disposal of waste at sea, resulted in the addition of the cleaning and collection of aluminum and tin cans along with glass.

Arriving Hakaui

Aboard the Robert C. Seamans waste is collected and disposed of daily. Waste from the galley is separated into three different trash cans: one for plastic waste; one for food and paper waste; and one for aluminum and tin cans. Glass waste is also collected, but is separated and stored in Dry Storage. Glass is removed from the rest of the recyclable waste to decrease the risk of interaction with broken glass, as the possibility of such raises safety and health concerns. This illustrates the complex interaction between the desire to decrease overboard waste and the health and safety consideration of students and professional staff. Due to the long and isolated nature of the Robert C. Seamans’ cruise tracks, the recycling program could put people at risk if a situation arose when the vessel was far from medical help. Plastic waste from the galley, science lab, and heads is collected and stored daily. Plastic waste from the galley is washed by hand and put through the dishwasher to ensure that no food residue remains to avoid the development of maggots. The plastic galley waste is doubled bagged and eventually stored in the plastic trash dumpster located on the starboard foredeck and in the forepeak. Plastic waste from the heads is also stored in the plastic dumpster in specifically designated plastic bags.

Food, paper, metal, glass, and wood waste can all be disposed of overboard when the vessel is at least twelve nautical miles from land. The incorporation of a recycling plan decreases the amount of waste disposed of overboard by storing metal and glass waste on the ship. First, aluminum and tin can lids are taken off and put in the overboard waste to avoid cuts. Next the cans are thoroughly washed by hand, put through the dishwasher, and inspected for food. Once the can is clean, the bottom lid of the can is removed and placed in a plastic tub in the galley while the can is crushed and placed in a trash can for metal cans. All waste dumped overboard is required by law to be logged in the vessel’s trash log which records the date, weight, latitude and longitude, type of waste, and the initials of the individual who dumped the trash.

Arriving Hakaui


The S-233 voyage aboard the Robert C. Seamans sailed from Papetee to Honolulu over 46 days. However, garbage was disposed of on shore in Papetee until February 5, so real shipboard waste management occurred for 42 of the 46-day voyage. To allow for the future comparison of waste generation data the following information includes the exact number of days over which the information was collected. For calculation purposes, S-233 consisted of 37.5 crew members, as one individual was only aboard for half of the voyage. 20 cubic feet of recyclable glass bottles and aluminum and tin cans were produced over 42 days. Approximately 0.7 cubic feet of recyclable waste was generated daily, with 0.5 cubic feet being generated per person. 135 can lids were collected in the galley; 73 of the 135 lids were from Number 10, with a diameter of 15.5 cm. The remaining 62 cans were made up of smaller cans; 28 cans had a diameter of 9.5 cm, 13 had a diameter of 8 cm, and 21 had a diameter of 6.4 cm. Over 42 days approximately 3.2 cans were used a day. 96 cubic feet of uncompressed non-recyclable plastic trash was produced over 42 days. This is approximately 2.3 cubic feet of waste a day and 2.6 cubic feet of non-recyclable trash per person. 1335 lbs of trash was disposed of overboard from February 5, 2011 through March 17, 2011. 33 lbs of food and paper waste was generated each day with 0.88 lbs generated per person per day. Over the 42 days the 1335 lbs of food and paper waste translated to approximately 35.6 lbs per person.

Arriving Hakaui

Upon arriving in Honolulu, the plastic and galley waste was labeled by a Department of Agriculture official with yellow stickers to indicate the contents were biological and foreign in nature. The bags were placed in 4mm thick plastic bags to prevent leaking during the handling and transportation of the trash from the deck of the Robert C. Seamans to Hawaii BioWaste by Aala Ship Service (Tarrant 2010). Hawaii BioWaste is certified by the USDA to sterilize and dispose of foreign waste from ships. The waste is sterilized for one hour in an autoclave, compacted and then moved to Oahu’s only municipal solid waste landfill, the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill (HBW, Opala). The 150 gallons of recyclable metal and glass was taken to C.M. Recycling on Sand Island. C.M. Recycling accepts non-ferrous metals including aluminum, brass, copper, and stainless steel as well as glass (Opala).

The galley plays a large role in producing garbage on the Robert C. Seamans. How and where the steward provisions the ship is a factor in the amount of waste generated. The fact that our voyage began in Tahiti meant that most of the provisioning occurred in grocery stores as opposed to through a wholesaler, which influences the amount of waste produced due to differences in food packaging. For example, 240 one-kg boxes of flour were purchased instead of the standard 50-lb bags. Each cardboard box was wrapped in plastic with another plastic bag holding the flour; these boxes increased our generation of plastic waste. The flour packaging attributed to one 45-gallon trash bag worth of garbage. Another factor increasing waste generation for S-233 was the number of port stops, as waste was brought back onto the Robert C. Seamans, so as not to contribute to the landfills in these locations. 


Arriving Hakaui


The examination of the Robert C. Seamans’ waste management plan allows for a better understanding of what needs to occur in the future to decrease waste generation and increase recycling efforts. In the future when building new vessels the Sea Education Association should consider including containers to store different recyclable waste, as the forepeak was filled on S-233. Furthermore, detailed research on what happens to recyclable waste in Hawai‘i would be beneficial to fully understanding how much energy is used to recycle cans and glass. On the same note, a detailed study should be undertaken to determine how much energy is used to wash all the non-recyclable galley plastic trash and recyclable cans and glass. Ultimately, continued study of waste management and recycling aboard the Robert C. Seamans is necessary to help make Sea Education Association vessels more sustainable.

Cloe Bushnell, Colgate University



“International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)” IMO. Web. 24 March. 2011. http://www.imo.org/About/Conventions/ListOfConventions/Pages/International-Convention-for-the-Prevention-of-Pollution-from-Ships-(MARPOL).aspx.

“Landfill Status” Opala. Web. 24 March. 2011. <http://www.opala.org/solid_waste/WGSL_Issues.htm>

“Products and Services” Hawaii Bio-Waste. Web. 24 March. 2011. <http://www.hawaiibiowaste.com/products.htm>

“Recycling and Composting Companies on Oahu” Opala. Web. 24 March. 2011.


S233, “Robert C. Seamans Trash Log” 5 Feb 2011 – 13 Mar 2011.

Sea Education Association. “Waste Management Plan.” 2001.

Tarrant, Steve. Personal Communication with Norton Lily Agent. 23 March 2011.