There is an increased awareness of the dangers posed by marine litter to the environment, to marine life and human health. This can include all types of material, but a major concern are plastics, which, according to the UN Environment Programme, make up as much as 95% of the marine litter on our coastlines, the sea surface and ocean floor. The plastic can originate from land-based sources but also from ships and one common type is of course plastic bottles, which are routinely used on ships to provide drinking water of acceptable quality.

It is the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 that requires all ships to ensure that seafarers have access to good quality drinking water and the standard this needs to reach is directed by the World Health Organisation, WHO, in March 2022, released updated guidelines for drinking-water quality including the application of the guidelines for ships. We have therefore on the one hand, the need to ensure potable water for crew, and on the other, the need to reduce the use of plastics. 

There are viable solutions to this problem and the IMPA SAVE initiative was launched in 2020 to tackle this as its first goal. IMPA SAVE’s Getting to Zero target encourages shipowners and managers to switch to suitable alternatives to plastic bottled water aiming for a reduction by 2025. It does so by bringing together members of the industry to work on sustainability initiatives, responding to the United Nations’ universal call for action to promote prosperity while protecting the environment. It is not a theoretical initiative, it is a practical one, made up of a group of individuals representing a range of companies including global shipowners and maritime suppliers who share knowledge and viable solutions creating best practice through their own experience.

The IMO has acknowledged a warning by some scientists that by 2050, there will a higher number of plastics in our oceans than quantity of fish. That is a staggering reality and although the MARPOL convention imposes on vessels rules for waste and garbage management in Annex 5, there is a better way to solving this problem: eliminate plastic bottles altogether. In fact, some countries have done just that, for example, the Indian Directorate of Shipping issued an order in 2019 imposing a ban on single use plastics for all Indian flagged ships and any foreign flagged vessels calling at Indian ports or passing through India’s territorial sea. The ban prohibits, amongst others, plastic bottles for water and other drinks. The increasing awareness of the issue, the IMO’s Action Plan 2018 and Strategy 2021 for addressing marine litter from ships, BIMCO’s 2021 initiatives to address shipping’s plastic footprint and IMPA’s SAVE programmes are all indicators that the industry is responding and ship operators must take notice. Not only is it better for the environment, but elimination of plastic bottles may soon be a legal requirement. The place to start, is changing the reputation of water from on board dispensers, convincing crew and vessel operators that there are safe, viable and cost-effective alternatives to plastic bottles. 

IMPA SAVE’s Getting to Zero  target encourages shipowners and managers to switch to suitable alternatives to plastic bottled water aiming for a reduction by 2025

The point is simple: there are viable options with efficient returns on investment so why not switch? Companies can become an IMPA SAVE Pledger, committing to the reduction of plastic and implement this change with the help of IMPA SAVE who provide resources, directories of solutions and webinars. 10% of the global fleet has already committed and there are a range of companies that provide viable solutions, just take a look at: One such company is AQUAREX International, who enable vessel operators and maritime catering companies to supply high-quality water onboard, without the use of plastic bottles. IMPA talked to the Founder and CEO, Jesper Bak Weller, who gave us an insight into how their system works and the benefits of moving from plastic bottled water.

Mr Weller explained that their solution is based on a decentralised 6-stage reverse osmosis filtration system with UV (biological barrier), granular active carbon and remineralisation. This filtration system gives healthy and
safe high-quality drinking water in a sustainable way. Notably, it is a “very visible solution” so crew “feel reassured and comfortable giving up plastic bottled drinking water”. This is an important aspect of the solution, as it will directly tackle crews’ outlook on the quality of water. The system is installed where the drinking water is tapped, treating the water there “after it has passed the tank and all the piping leading to the water tap” requiring only access to a water drain and electricity. It will treat water produced onboard from sea water or bunkered water for domestic use so one can see
it is a viable solution to all types of vessels. 

The AQUAREX concept 

enables vessel operators and maritime catering companies to supply high-quality crew water onboard – without the use of plastic bottles

Mr Weller also noted that in the long term this is also cost-effective, enabling a short pay-back period, in many cases less than a year. Moreover, the system can be 100% installed, commissioned, operated and maintained by crew through the comprehensive instruction manual “which is made for maritime professionals, by maritime professionals” with no need for service visits. This therefore means it is also a practical solution, without a lengthy installation and viable in terms of cost when one considers all the aspects. For example, there will be future savings including reduced logistics, reduced waste, reduced waste management, reduced procurement activities and of course reduced drinking water costs. Mr Weller recognises that initial cost is important for all companies, but also notes that budget predictability and peace-of-mind have an important role to play and to this end, have a leasing option which provides the operator with full budget transparency against a flat fixed monthly fee giving safe high-quality drinking water onboard and absorbing all operational expenses. This includes any spares needed, even complete exchange filtration systems, in case of malfunctions in the 2 year leasing period. This gives ship managers the flexibility of choosing whether to buy or to lease the system, depending on what suits their individual operational approach.

in the long term this is also cost-effective, enabling a short pay-back period, in many cases less than a year

The environmental benefits are obvious. There is no risk of marine litter from plastic water bottles; they have been eliminated and this is an incredible benefit when one considers that recent studies show 20-40% of marine litter originates from sea-based sources. Furthermore, with no plastic water bottles to dispose of, time is saved at port. Although both the IMO and the EU have issued rules to ensure that port reception facilities are adequate and correctly used by ships to discharge waste (aimed at protecting the marine environment and improving efficiency of maritime operations at port) there is no doubt that not needing to dispose of these plastic materials is a time saver. Beyond that, Mr Weller notes that shipowners should take into consideration that “environmental care is an absolute necessity in today’s world to strengthen the company image and brand value.” It is a system benefitting all stakeholders involved: the environmental issues are reduced, and safe drinking water provided to crew through a simpler and long-term cost-effective method. Reputable companies such as AQUAREX, also provide reliability and in Mr Weller’s own words, their support is based on “many years’ experience in delivering reliable, timely and qualified products and services to crews, vessel owners and vessel managers. We are maritime professionals who know what matters to our clients – we used to be in their shoes and know what it takes onboard and onshore.” This is an environmental issue, but for a manager with day-to-day operating concerns, this makes sense as a solution to the very real concern of potable water for seafarers.