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The Environment Ministry is considering banning the dumping at sea of waste such as sewage sludge in a bid to curb marine pollution.

The move is a step toward ratifying a protocol of the 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter. The international treaty on regulating sea dumping is also known as the London Convention.

The ministry said it will submit revisions to related legislation, including the Marine Pollution Prevention Law, at the regular Diet session next year at the earliest.

Sewage sludge is the byproduct after water is processed at sewage-treatment plants. It often contains heavy metals and hazardous organic substances. The ministry initiative will cover it and six other types of waste.

The ministry aims to create a system to require firms to draw up an evaluation of waste they intend to dump at sea. It would then decide whether to grant permission.

In fiscal 2003, which starts in April, the ministry will create a panel of experts under its Central Environment Council that will be tasked with discussing the details with the parties that will be involved in the initiative and its enforcement, including the Japan Coast Guard.

Currently, 12 million tons of waste are dumped at sea annually by Japan. The ministry said about 6 million tons of dredged matter, excluding that originally on the seabed, have been dumped, reportedly the largest amount in the world.

Dredged matter includes sediment from rivers, harbors and lakes. It is usually composed of sand, silt or soil, and often contains contaminants.

The London Convention bans the dumping of toxic substances, but the protocol adopted in 1996 carries stricter stipulations and broadens the scope of banned waste.

The protocol will enter into force after it is ratified by 26 countries. Currently, 16, including Britain, Germany and Australia, have done so. It is not expected to enter into force before 2004.

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