Sri Lanka, the waste land | Daily News


Sri Lanka, the waste land

The appalling double standards of the most affluent Western nations in dumping their garbage on unsuspecting third world countries in a cold, heartless and immoral manner, while preaching everybody about human rights, democracy, equality and moral high standards is indeed shocking.

Rich Western nations have been sending tens of millions of tons of garbage including plastic waste to developing Southeast Asian countries for decades. Western companies pay for disposal of trash by entering into contracts that can be accepted by overseas companies that import the waste.

This was done in large scale in China for several years. When the environmental authorities in China recommended Beijing to ban foreign garbage recycling as the process causes immense environmental damage as well as the spread of diseases affecting the health of people, the Western companies turned to other countries in Africa and Asia to use as dumping grounds. A lot of plastics end up being burned in illegal incinerators, which releases highly toxic fumes and causes respiratory illnesses and water-contamination issues.

Sri Lanka is the latest victim of garbage dumping and it was reported that Britain has sent over 1,000 containers of garbage to Sri Lanka for recycling. This may be technically legal, but it is a fact that the trash often is not what the senders say it is and that illegal operators are taking the waste to burn or bury it without permission. Sri Lanka, following the examples set by Malaysia and the Philippines, is taking action to send back the garbage to the United Kingdom, the perpetrator of this crime.

Garbage containers from UK

The Court of Appeal ordered the Government Analyst’s Department to investigate into over 1,000 containers containing waste at the Colombo Port and submit a report. Some of the containers, which are yet to be cleared from the Colombo Port, have been imported from the UK and have been at the centre of a controversy for nearly two weeks. Some of these containers were released and are at the Katunayake Export Processing Zone but the Board of Investment (BoI) last week ordered they be re-exported by August 12. The Court of Appeal has issued an interim order to stop the transportation of garbage containers from the container yards to recycling centres in the countryside.

In the recent past, Malaysia and the Philippines sent large shipments of trash back to the West. Three months ago, President Rodrigo Duterte of Philippines threatened to ‘declare war’ on Canada for Ottawa’s refusal to take back over one hundred containers of Canadian garbage sent to the Philippines.

From June 2013 to January 2014 nearly one hundred containers arrived in the Philippines from Canada. Most of them were declared to contain recyclable plastic scrap materials. The containers were not claimed by the consignee and in January 2014 customs opened some of the containers, as part of measures regard to shipment not claimed for a long period, and discovered garbage including, plastic bottles, plastic bags, household garbage, and even used adult diapers. Then the customs decided not to open the rest of the containers as those also may contain hazardous waste.

In February 2014, just a few weeks after the containers were open, the customs filed smuggling complaint against the company which allegedly imported the garbage shipment and its licensed Customs brokers. In March 2014, the Department of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to the Canadian Embassy in the Philippines requesting for assistance in shipping the garbage back to Canada. In March 2014, the Department of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to the Canadian Embassy in the Philippines requesting for assistance in shipping the garbage back to Canada.

As the delaying tactics of Canada continued, infuriated President Duterte said, “I will declare war against them. I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to”. During his speech, the president not only threatened to ship the containers of garbage back to Canada but also warned that he would dump some of the garbage at Canada’s embassy in Manila.

President Duterte gave Canada a deadline to take back their garbage by May 2019. When Canada did not comply, he recalled the Philippine’s Ambassador to Canada and instructed to ship the containers across the Pacific and dump them in Canadian waters, if necessary.

Finally, Trudeau agreed to take back Canadian garbage and the shipment left the Philippines on June 1 for a voyage across the Pacific Ocean to Metro Vancouver incinerator. It cost Canada more than Canadian Dollars 1.5 million for the shipment and for burning the garbage in an incinerator in Canada.

While the legal process on British garbage containers in Sri Lanka is going on, Sri Lanka should take a lesson from the Philippines about the imperative need for stern action, because the West is very capable of delaying tactics on varied and lengthy legal arguments.

Legal action

President Maithripala Sirisena, who is the Minister of Environment, instructed issuance of a special gazette notification to declare garbage disposal as an essential service in June 2017. This covers garbage disposal, garbage separation, transportation and storage of garbage. Any person contravening the order and disturb any of these activities are liable for arrest, prosecution and punishable under the law.

On the legal front, a petition has been filed against the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) and the Director-General of Customs for their failure to regulate the importation of mixed contaminated waste into the country. The CEJ had requested the Court of Appeal to order the CEA and Customs to conduct an investigation in the illegal importation of hazardous waste and also to take legal action against the importer or importers under the terms of the National Environmental Act and also the Customs Ordinance.

CEJ Executive Director Hemantha Withanage said that the waste consignments were imported to be disposed of within the country, which would have caused severe harm to the people and the environment. He also said that the importer had violated the National Environmental Act (NEA) No. 47 of 1980, which clearly states that the disposal of waste can only be done under a permit issued by the CEA. The Executive Director added that the importer had also violated the terms of the BASEL Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal by bringing hazardous waste amounting to approximately 4,500 MT. Similar to Canada and the Philippine, Sri Lanka and the UK are also signatories to the Convention.

The CEJ has also requested the Court to order the importer to re-export the waste containers to their original destination. If the UK fails to listen, Sri Lanka too must take tough action, taking a leaf out of Duterte’s book of no-nonsense.

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