Last reviewed 3 November 2020

Sri Lanka has sent 21 shipping containers back to the UK after officials there found hazardous materials in the consignment, violating international laws.

The 240-tonne consignment, shipped to Sri Lanka in 2017, was wrongly described as containing mattresses and carpets for reuse, which authorities said actually contained hospital waste and other illegal hazardous material.

The Environment Agency (EA) says it is determined to stop the trade in illegal waste exports and will establish the types of waste shipped to Sri Lanka and track down those responsible.

Malcolm Lythgo, Head of Waste Regulation at the Environment Agency, said: “Wherever we find illegal activity, we stop the waste being exported. There are stringent international rules in place to stop contaminated waste being shipped to unsuspecting countries which could harm their citizens and the environment.”

Working with Border Force, HMRC, police forces and others, the EA prevented nearly 13,000 tonnes of illegal waste from leaving England in 2018/19. But the problem persists as countries in Southeast Asia and elsewhere find it difficult to cope with waste shipments from the UK and other western countries.

Defra has announced that it will bring forward key regulatory reforms governing international waste shipments, the introduction of waste tracking, and plans to strengthen both producer responsibility and the regime for waste carriers, brokers and dealers.

“Those exporting waste should be under no illusion — if we find waste being shipped illegally then we will take action,” Lythgo added. “Producers of waste should make sure it does not get handled illegally by their contractors — out of sight should not be out of mind.”

More information about waste imports and exports can be found on gov.uk, here. Businesses concerned about suspicious waste shipments can also contact the EA here or call the Agency anonymously at Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.