The ocean is one of several media available for the disposal of society's wastes. Recently, its use for this purpose has been curtailed sharply. In this paper, we describe the potential role of the ocean in an economically optimal multimedia waste disposal framework, review international agreements and U.S. laws regulating ocean disposal, and discuss the role of public perceptions and environmental agendas in present policies governing ocean disposal. Our focus is on the disposal in the abyssal ocean of wastes such as sewage sludge. We conclude that while the U.S. ban on ocean waste disposal may be reasonable in view of uncertainties about environmental costs, the effective ban on limited disposal for research purposes is more difficult to justify. A restoration of public trust in government institutions and in the waste management industry is a likely prerequisite for the relaxation of public opposition to any change in the present prohibitions.