What does a cruise ship do with human waste?

Last updated on July 11th, 2023 at 09:49 am

Older ships have in the past dumped human waste into the ocean once the ship was 12 nautical miles away from port, however this is a rare occurrence today, especially among the major cruise line operators.

Think of a cruise ship like a floating city. A floating city with it’s own wastewater management system. 

Yes, you read that correctly – Most cruise ships are equipped with a modern wastewater management system onboard, complete with engineers who monitor the treatment of waste that goes down the drains and toilets on the ship. 

A common misconception is that once a ship is out in the open ocean, they dump human waste into the water. This is simply NOT true today.

So, what happens to the human waste?

Cruise ships are equipped with water treatment systems that clean the human waste (black water) and grey water (water that goes down the sinks and showers), before it gets treated and combined and released back into the ocean. By the time this water is released back into the ocean, it has been cleaned enough to be safe for dumping into the ocean.

cruise ship toilet

Any waste that can’t be processed as a solid is held until the ship returns to port or is incinerated. 

All major cruise line operators belong to an organization called “CLIA” – Cruise Lines International Association. To maintain membership in this organization, cruise lines must adhere to a set of standards, including a Waste Water Management Policy that prohibits dumping of untreated waste at any time. 

In addition to the regulations from CLIA,  most cruise ships have a staff position onboard called “Chief Environment Officer” or something similar. This individual is responsible for ensuring the ship meets environmental requirements and is operating as clean as possible.


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