Sri Lanka has sent the last containers of waste back to the UK, after 3,000 tonnes of waste was illegally imported into the country.
The Environment Agency (EA) was asked to repatriate thousands of tonnes of waste in July 2020 after Sri Lankan customs officials identified a large shipment of 263 containers that had been illegally exported. Local importers claimed the waste, which was exported from the UK between 2017 and 2019, was for recycling. However, hidden alongside the listed waste of used mattresses, carpets and rugs, was biowaste from hospitals, with some said to be giving off a “powerful stench”.
The 45 containers loaded at a Colombo port on Monday for the UK were the final batch of containers holding medical waste. The first 21 containers were returned to the UK in September 2020.
Sri Lanka’s government said the containers were sent out of the port at Colombo on Monday 21 February for the UK. These were the final batch holding medical waste, with the first 21 returned in September 2020. The country’s customs chief Vijitha Ravipriya warned that “there could be fresh attempts to import such hazardous cargo, but we will be vigilant and ensure that this does not happen again.” All the containers had been brought into the country in violation of international law governing the shipment of hazardous waste, including plastics.
This latest move from Sri Lanka is among an increasing number of cases of foreign authorities sending illegal waste back to the UK. Sending recyclable waste abroad is financially cheap, reduces domestic landfill and can help countries achieve recycling targets. However, a lack of transparency and infrastructure, as well as too many opportunities for illegal activity, is resulting in UK waste, which was destined for recycling, being dumped abroad. The problem has been highlighted in Asia, in particular, and in 2020, Malaysia’s environment minister said the government had sent back 150 shipping containers of illegally imported plastic waste to their country of origin – 42 of which belonged to the UK.