Disposal at sea legislation and regulations

Using the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 to manage disposal at sea

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) prohibits the disposal of a substance at sea within Canadian jurisdiction and by Canadian ships in international waters and waters under foreign jurisdiction, unless the disposal is done under a permit issued by the Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) Disposal at Sea Program. Permits are published on the CEPA Environmental Registry.

The Disposal at sea provisions of CEPA are contained in Part 7, Division 3, whose purpose is to protect the marine environment. Disposal at sea is permitted only for substances listed in Schedule 5 of CEPA, and where it is an environmentally preferable and practical alternative. These Schedule 5 substances are:

  1. dredged material
  2. fish waste and other organic matter resulting from industrial fish processing operations
  3. ships, aircraft, platforms or other structures
  4. Inert, inorganic geological matter
  5. uncontaminated organic matter of natural origin
  6. bulky substances that are primarily composed of iron, steel, concrete or other similar matter.

Incineration at sea is banned except under emergency situations, or if it’s waste generated on board the ship or structure.

Disposal at sea permits typically govern timing, handling, storing, loading, placement at the disposal site and monitoring requirements. Permits are granted on a case-by-case basis after an application and review process. Schedule 6 of CEPA outlines the process to be used to assess permit applications. Appropriate consideration of alternatives to disposal at sea such as recycling and means to prevent or reduce the generation of waste must be assessed. Permits are not granted if practical opportunities are available to reuse or recycle the material.

Once a permit is issued, ECCC conducts periodic inspections during disposal operations to ensure compliance with the permit conditions. Oversight of compliance is a shared responsibility between the Disposal at Sea Program and its Enforcement Branch. Enforcement officers are responsible for ensuring compliance with permit conditions, field inspections, and investigation of suspected non-compliance. In cases of non-compliance, enforcement officers will investigate. If a violation is confirmed, action will be taken using one or more of the enforcement tools available under CEPA, such as warnings, directions, tickets, orders of various types including environmental protection compliance orders, injunction or prosecution.

After disposal operations are completed, monitoring studies are conducted at selected sites to verify that permit conditions were met and that scientific assumptions made during the permit review process were correct and sufficient to protect the marine environment and human health.

Additional information about the process that regulates permits is found in the Disposal at sea permit application guide’s legislative and process framework section.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 is "an Act respecting pollution prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order to contribute to sustainable development." CEPA also recognizes the contribution of pollution prevention and the management and control of toxic substances and hazardous waste to reducing threats to Canada's ecosystems and biological diversity.

In addition to CEPA, there are 3 regulations that govern disposal at sea:

  1. Disposal at Sea Regulations under CEPA set out information requirements for an emergency report, the National Action List mechanisms, and jurisdictional boundaries in major estuaries.

    This regulation also prescribes some of the requirements for permit renewals and service standards for permit assessments. As a service standard, the program will reach a permit decision within 90 days (or 45 days for permit renewals) of having sent a notice to the applicant that their application is complete.

  2. Disposal at Sea Permit Application Regulations under CEPA set out the application form to be used to apply for a disposal at sea permit, as well as the shorter form to be used for a permit renewal.

    For the convenience of permit applicants, prepared versions of the permit application form specific to the various waste types are available. Applicants should use these waste type specific versions of the application form when applying for a permit.

  3. Disposal at Sea Permit Fee Regulations under the Financial Administration Act prescribe permit fees for dredged material and excavated material permits.
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