Sustainable and Cost-Effective Alternatives to Disposal at Sea

Throughout history, people have been using the vast waters as dumping grounds for all kinds of substances, including excavated material and construction waste.

In the early 1970s, governments worldwide recognized that our oceans' health was under threat.

As a maritime nation, Canada joined with other countries to draft the London convention, an agreement to stop the uncontrolled dumping of pollution into the marine environment. In 2000 Canada joined the London protocol and updated a more stringent international consensus on the disposal of substances at sea.

Environment Canada's disposal at sea program is part of Canada's commitment to meeting its international obligations to protecting the marine environment.

How Does the Disposal at Seal Program Work?

Disposal or dumping at sea could have unwanted effects on the marine environment even if the dumped material is clean and non-toxic.

Environment Canada's disposal at sea program is the way to regulate and monitor what is dumped and where. Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999 (CEPA), anyone who intends to dump any substance at sea must have a permit.

The requirements are strict. Only a limited list of substances are considered, like excavated or dredged material, rocks, and other inert inorganic geological matter. No toxic or hazardous material can be dumped at sea.

For every permit issued, an environmental assessment is first conducted and approved. Then Environment Canada, along with other relevant agencies such as fisheries and oceans, Transport Canada, or the provincial Government, performs a scientific review of the environmental assessment.

A permit is granted only when there are no other practical alternatives or when disposal at sea is the environmentally preferable choice. The Canadian Environmental Protection act contains waste assessment guidance that helps with this decision.

At the same time, Canada's disposal at sea program actively promotes waste reduction while managing risks and monitoring results.

Inspection & Monitoring of Disposal at Sea Sites

Site monitoring is a critical component of the disposal at sea program, providing valuable data for interpreting the effects of disposal activities. During the term of a permit, operations are subject to inspections by Environment Canada at any time. These surveillance and inspections at load and disposal sites and at random representative sites are to ensure compliance with the conditions of the permits.

Monitoring techniques such as remotely operated vehicles, multibeam bath imagery, and side-scan sonar provide a picture of the physical effects of disposal on the sites.

Sediment samples are collected at the disposal sites. The samples are analyzed at labs to ensure the environmental assessment correctly predicted the disposed material's physical, chemical, and biological effects. The laboratory results, along with information collected from other monitoring activities, help answer the question, "was the marine environment protected and used sustainably?"

Overall the monitoring of disposal sites enables the Government to accommodate the legitimate needs of commercial dredging, excavation, and disposal of fish wastes and allow continued access to the disposal sites.

Monitoring also provides the information needed to adjust site use if required and identify future research and development needs.

Environment Canada's disposal at sea program ensures that regulated ocean disposal continues to be a sound waste management practice consistent with sustainable use of the oceans.

Why Is Disposal at Sea Still Common?

There are serval reasons why disposal at sea is still common despite the consequences on the environment.


70% of Canada's imports arrive by way of marine shipping that generates massive traffic along Canada's coastlines. Waterways are regularly dredged to keep these ocean channels open and safe. The dredged material can be relocated to other areas without having a substantial impact on the environment.

Dynamic Shorelines

Dynamic shorelines and shifting sandbars often cause the material to drift into the channels that lead to small craft harbors. This, in turn, blocks fishing vessels from reaching their fishing grounds. Dredged material is often relocated to a new underwater location to clear the channels.


In the Atlantic region, most permits are for the disposal of fish waste. As a region famous for its seafood, fish processing plants have to find sustainable ways to recycle fish waste. Disposal sites are usually located away from shipping traffic and channels. The currents can disperse the waste and prevent the organic material from building up and interfering with oxygen levels in the waters.

Marine & Offshore Projects

Dredging is also used for large scale marine construction projects, harbor expansion, infrastructure development, and offshore oil and gas activities.


Construction projects also generate a lot of debris like excavated material. All of this material must be disposed of somewhere. Mountainous and coastal regions like British Columbia have very little room for landfill sites. That's why disposal at sea in British Columbia has been considered a reasonable alternative under some circumstances.

What Are the Alternatives to Disposal at Sea for the Construction Industry

As environmental regulations get stricter, there is an increasing emphasis on considering alternatives to disposal at sea as part of the permit application process. Permits cannot be granted if practical opportunities are available to reuse the material without undue risks to human health or the environment or disproportionate costs.

Disposal at sea might still be a sustainable option for fish waste and dredged material, as long as the process is monitored and implemented with care.

But disposing of excavated construction material in the ocean is a waste, especially when there are multiple construction projects needing fill material.

Verified fill material can be recycled and used in addition to newly mined dirt as "Clean Fill" material for land reclamation, leveling, and reinforcement.

Many construction project managers still turn to third-party vendors and brokers to buy newly mined fill material like sand and gravel. Very few take advantage of recycling or a fill exchange program.

Recycling excavated and fill material can save construction projects a lot of time and money and help reduce illegal dumping on land and at sea.

But limited industry and team collaboration has made it challenging to find, reuse, and repurpose fill material.

With the Fill Connect dirt exchange platform, construction projects can now:

  • Save time by locating nearby sites, vendors, and suppliers that have what they need
  • Reduce trucking, dumpsite, and fill material costs by collaborating with nearby construction project sites
  • Protect & preserve the environment by reducing trucking distances, reusing material, and avoiding disposal at sea

Take The Lead On Environmental and Climate Change

Fill Connect is a simple solution that can solve an overwhelming problem.

But someone has to take the lead.

Canadian cities and municipalities can set the example by listing their fill material needs and recourses on Fill Connect.

Putting up "Soil Watch" warning signs will not help unless the Government provides clear instructions on where this excess material needs to go.

We invite you to be the leader of your city, municipality, and organization and bring awareness about recycling and a fill exchange program.

By collaborating, we can all work together to protect the environment and mitigate the risks of climate change.

Take the lead, and post your excavated and fill material needs on


Learn more about the Canada Disposal at Sea Program:
Canadian Environmental Protection Act Registry 

Canada's Disposal at Sea Program