Imported garbage: An environmental disaster | Sunday Observer

Imported garbage: An environmental disaster

21 July, 2019

Over a hundred containers of garbage are being dumped at an identified land situated in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone, it was revealed following information which surfaced during the course of the last week. It was also found that the project was initiated in May 2014.

The Board of Investment (BOI) as well as the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) issuing a press release took a stern position against importing garbage from the United Kingdom.

Environmentalist and senior counsel Jagath Gunewardena states that the regulations under ‘hub regulation No 01 of 2013’ are blatantly illegal as regulation cannot supersede powers of a Parliamentary Act.

“An act derives its power under articles 3 and 4 of the Constitution, therefore, a regulation cannot simply supersede a Parliamentary Act. Therefore what this gazette has sought to do is blatantly illegal,” he told the Sunday Observer.

According to him the only exception are regulations introduced under Public Security can suspend an act but they too cannot supersede it.

He also questioned as to why the current government has not acted on this issue for this long.

“All what the Government should have done is to seek advice from the Attorney General (AG) and then either issue a fresh gazette revoking the previous one as per the advice given by the AG. This is the simple solution that is available to the Government to put an immediate stop to this act where the environment of the country has been threatened to the utmost,” he said.

According to a statement issued by the BOI, it had ‘permitted this company in May 2014 to operate an integrated logistics center and engage in entreport trading as permitted activities at the Katunayake Export Processing Zone.’

Highly placed sources familiar with the project told the Sunday Observer that the garbage brought into the country was sorted and materials such as metal was extracted in order to re export to India.

“This type of projects are not secondary to scavenging. Much of the materials which were brought in include mattresses and carpets. Metal springs used in the mattresses are then extracted and re exported,” the source confirmed.

However, the revenue from re exporting was at a bare minimal while the company involved in the project was saw its revenue by accepting the garbage.

According to the All Ceylon Customs Services Union Gazette notification no 1010-30 of 2013 issued by the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in his capacity as the Finance Minister has taken the authority vested with the customs to monitor the import of the said garbage.

It was revealed that the Customs did not even have the authority to check the relevant containers as the gazette issued removed the authority vested with the customs to check the containers.

The BOI in its statement further rejected allegations that it was a BOI enterprise that was involved in importing the garbage but further clarifies on the activities of a BOI enterprise operating under hub regulation No 01 of 2013 namely, Hayleys Free Zone Limited (HFZL).

“The recent reference in the media regarding 102 containers of contaminated material imported by a BOI enterprise is factually incorrect in that the consignee of the said goods is not a BOI enterprise, operating within a BOI zone or otherwise. These containers are lying in the Port of Colombo,” the statement read.

HFZL has imported from the UK 130 containers of used mattresses and carpets for the purpose pf re-export, in October 2017. Out of these containers 29 containers have been re-exported.

However, in January 2018, the BOI had observed that the said cargo was unloaded or stored within the free zone premises without being re-exported as envisaged. The BOI had given written instructions to the company to strictly comply with the commitments laid out in the BOI agreement and the applicable environmental regulations. Simultaneously, the BOI took further steps to suspend all future import of used material and the company committed to clear all cargo by end February 2018.

Meanwhile the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) issuing a statement said that they will initiate legal action against the company involved in garbage importing.The company’s continued failure to heed to its commitment and requesting extensions to comply citing technical and other constraints have resulted in irremediable damage to the environment.“ We as a country or even the BOI should not encourage such projects We don’t encourage this type of industry. Various people occasionally submit these projects but then they reject them when they realise that the cost of this type of industry is very high. You are doing more harm to your country, people and the environment,” an official familiar with the project told the Sunday Observer.

Although in the past, countries like China and Malaysia has been engaging in such trade they don’t do it anymore. However, according to reports the containers of garbage found in Malaysia containing old cloth and other materials were sent back to the UK and the companies engaged in the business were blacklisted.“

In Bangladesh, the boat breaking industry is in the port of Chittagong. This is is where they old ships are broken up and cut into scrap and as a result it’s polluted and horrible. People working in these areas are wading in chemicals. However, the country earns millions but the environmental damage is staggering,” the source further said.