Most of everything you own – clothes, shoes, food, tech – is made overseas then put inside a giant container ship, travelling thousands of miles across the ocean to reach you.
It’s economical to do this because ships run on the cheapest, dirtiest fossil fuel – “Heavy Fuel Oil”. This is the gunky black crap that comes out the bottom of an oil refinery, once all the transparent road fuels like gasoline and diesel have been separated out.
Heavy Fuel Oil contains up to 500 times as much cancer-causing sulfur as these road fuels. Sometimes even chemical waste and melted car tires, that companies don’t want to pay to dispose of safely, are just blended into shipping fuel!
That’s why the Financial Times says the shipping industry has functioned for decades as “a vast waste disposal system for the oil industry“.
So all this toxic waste that’s illegal to burn on land, gets burnt out of sight at sea.
But it’s not just the people who work on ships – seafarers – who are are exposed to this filthy air. Around about 40% of the world’s population live within 100 km (60 miles) of the coast – and shipping’s dirty fumes blow further inland than this.
Last year, shipping’s air pollution caused around 400,000 premature deaths from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, and around 14 MILLION childhood asthma cases.
Shipping emits ALMOST 1 BILLION TONNES of climate-heating greenhouse gases every year – more than all but the 5 biggest country emitters like China and Germany – driving extreme weather effects and ocean acidification.
This year, to get around higher fuel quality regulations, thousands of ships have started pumping wastewater from “scrubbers”, into the sea containing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These substances are regulated in the US and EU as they have been linked to skin, lung, bladder, liver and stomach cancers. They are known to build up in the marine food chain – the higher up the food chain you go, the greater the concentration.
And who sits right at the top of the food chain? Ah yes. Us.
It’s time we tell every company that ships goods from overseas – Sort Your Ship Out.