In Brief

Sri Lanka and UK in standoff over rotting waste

South Asian government implores Britain to take back its hazardous waste

The Sri Lankan government says the UK must take back containers full of hazardous waste landing in its ports.

The South Asian country has accused Britain of dumping medical debris - including human remains - in Colombo, under the guise of metal recycling, reports France24.

Many of the containers were dispatched from the UK as far back as 2017, reports the BBC. Sri Lankan Customs Department spokesman Sunil Jayaratne said that a Sri Lankan businessman had illegally imported the containers and would face prosecution if he failed to return them to their point of origin.

Authorities said on Tuesday that they had already taken “immediate action to order the re-export of the 111 containers abandoned at the port”.

“Area residents claim that with the prevailing rains, the deteriorating waste would soon flow into the nearby canals,” the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror reports. If the waste reaches the marshlands at Muthurajawela, north of Colombo, it could eventually disperse into the ocean, threatening marine life.

Another 130 containers already transported from the port to inland facilities will be dealt with under environmental laws, Jayaratne said.

“They include various clinical waste, including materials disposed from mortuaries, syringes, and other material. Some of these materials have been liquidised and deteriorated to the point that we cannot even examine them, and this waste is emitting a very bad odour,” Jayaratne told the Mirror.

Sri Lanka is internationally protected from waste imports through the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal, the most comprehensive global treaty on hazardous waste treatment.

On Wednesday, a group of environmentalists and Buddhist monks held a protest outside the British High Commission in Colombo, handing over a letter asking Britain to take back the containers.

“Sri Lanka is not your dump yard,” read one sign.

The UK’s Environment Agency told the BBC on Wednesday that it was investigating what had happened, and that it has yet to receive a formal request from Sri Lankan authorities to reclaim the waste.

Earlier this month, Cambodia announced it will send 83 containers holding 1,600 tonnes of plastic waste back to the US and Canada in an attempt to crack down on a surge in unlicensed recycling plants. In May, the Philippines returned 69 containers to Canada which it claimed had been falsely labelled as recyclable plastic.

Southeast Asia has seen a “huge spike” in waste shipments from the West, says Time, since China - formerly the largest importer of scrap plastic - banned further imports at the beginning of 2018, "because of severe pollution due to a poorly managed waste process”.

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