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Sri Lankan authorities load containers of garbage, allegedly including hospital waste, to be taken back to Britain. Photo: AFP

Sri Lanka sends hazardous waste back to Britain after two-year court battle

  • A Sri Lankan court ordered the repatriation of plastic waste and bio-waste, including body parts, that was imported in violation of shipping regulations
  • Several Asian countries, including Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, are pushing back against being used as the world’s trash dump
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has started shipping 242 containers of hazardous waste, including body parts from mortuaries, back to Britain after a two-year court battle by an environment watchdog, officials said.

Several Asian countries have in recent years been pushing back against an onslaught of international refuse from wealthier nations and have started turning back the unwanted shipments of garbage as they battle against being used as the world’s trash dump.

The first 20 containers of medical waste, including body parts, were loaded on the MV Texas Triumph on Friday and another 65 will be sent within a week, customs spokesman Sunil Jayaratne said.

“The balance will be shipped as soon as another vessel is available,” Jayaratne said.

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Sri Lanka’s court of appeal two weeks ago ordered the repatriation of the bio-waste from hospitals and tonnes of plastic waste imported in violation of local and international shipping regulations.

The imports arrived between September 2017 and January 2018 and the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) had petitioned courts to get it rejected.

Customs did not reveal the type of waste, but officials had said it included rags, bandages and body parts from mortuaries.


In September, 260 tonnes of separate waste in another 21 containers was sent back after Britain agreed to take it back.

Local authorities discovered the new waste after the legal action was started against the 242 containers held in Colombo port and a free trade area near the capital.

Sri Lanka’s customs maintained that all the containers had been brought into the country in violation of international law governing the shipment of hazardous waste, including plastics.

Containers of garbage are loaded in Colombo to be returned to the UK. Photo: AFP

A Sri Lankan investigation last year into nearly 3,000 tonnes of illegally imported hazardous waste found the importer had reshipped about 180 tonnes to India and Dubai in 2017 and 2018.

Besides Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have also returned hundreds of container-loads of refuse back to their countries of origin.


In January, Malaysia sent back 150 shipping containers of plastic waste to mostly wealthier nations, saying it would not be the world’s “garbage dump”.

Malaysia sends back 150 containers of plastic waste

The region has been flooded with plastic from more developed economies such as the United States and Britain since 2018, after China – which previously boasted a massive recycling industry – ordered a halt to most imports.

In May last year, the Philippines ended a long-running dispute with Canada after it shipped 69 containers of garbage back to the North American country.

President Rodrigo Duterte had threatened to forcibly ship back the trash, which officials said was transported to the Philippines in 103 containers in 2013 to 2014, and falsely declared as recyclable plastic scraps.

Additional reporting by Associated Press