The discovery of more than 100 UK containers with the false label “Recycling” has outraged Sri Lankans and brought into light a global problem: Western countries are using developing nations as their own personal dumping grounds – literally.
Over the course of the last several years, since China decided in January 2018 to stop accepting foreign plastic waste for recycling, more and more developing nations have reported receiving containers full of toxic waste and trash from first-world countries.
Just this May, the Philippines returned 69 containers of refuse to Canada, all of which had been inappropriately labelled as plastic recycling. Then just weeks ago, Cambodia declared it would return 83 containers of trash to the US and Canada, exclaiming that "Cambodia is not a dustbin.” Similar scenarios have also happened with Indonesia and Malaysia. The most recent event occurred in Sri Lanka, which received 111 containers from the UK holding “of hazardous waste, including syringes and suspected human remains from mortuaries, mixed up amid mattresses, clothes and plastics,” according to the BBC.
Sri Lankans are calling for authorities to send the materials back to Britain, citing fear that contaminating the water in a nearby estuary. "Some of the materials have been liquidized and deteriorated to the point that we cannot even examine them and the waste is emitting a bad odour," Customs Department spokesman Sunil Jayaratne reported to Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror newspaper.
"We understand that the waste contains some chemicals. There was a video showing how some of the waste material is seeping out," said Avishka Sendanayake, a consultant on climate change who participated in a protest outside the British High Commission in Colombo last week to encourage authorities to take action. "I want the UK government to take responsibility and we want the Sri Lankan authorities to send them back."
Another protester, Manjuri Sumitrarachi, explained her reason for participating. "I am here to protect the future of my country and my children. We are finding it difficult to dispose of our own garbage. This is a third-world country, we are struggling with so many issues, and how can we be responsible for somebody else's garbage?"
Following the BBC, The UK Environment Agency has reported that it will only be able to repatriate the waste if there is evidence that the containers were illegally exported directly from England.