Sri Lankan customs officials said the U.K. had been sending containers since 2017 and they were only inspected last week after complaints of foul smell from 111 containers.
"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 odor," Customs Department spokesman Sunil Jayaratne told Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror newspaper.
The abandoned containers believed to have mortuary waste including human organs left unrefrigerated for the past two years.
“The waste material brought to the country under the guise of mattresses from the UK is extremely hazardous,” a spokesman for Sri Lanka’s Central Environment Authority said.
The U.K. government said Wednesday it was investigating what happened but it had not gotten any formal request from the Sri Lankan authorities to take back the waste.
Disposing of human remains is a lucrative business as it is illegal to export anatomical waste. "Someone is making a killing out of this," warned Dominic Hogg, the chairman of waste and recycling consultancy Eunomia.
“There is a major financial incentive to this, with hazardous material, because it was likely taken on the basis of being paid a lot of money to ensure it was disposed of correctly. You would potentially double your money if it were body parts or clinical waste."
Sri Lanka is the latest in the list of countries speaking out against waste-dumping by Western countries in name of recycling.
China, in 2018, stopped accepting plastic waste from western countries which led the developed countries to ship their waste in other Asian countries.
Indonesia this month announced that they were also sending back dozens of containers full of waste to France, Australia, and other developed countries. In May, Malaysia said it was sending back 450 tonnes of imported plastic waste to its sources. Last week Cambodia took the same decision saying that the country is not a dustbin.
“For far too long developed countries like the U.S. and Canada have been exporting their mixed toxic plastic wastes to developing Asian countries claiming it would be recycled in the receiving country. Instead, much of this contaminated mixed waste cannot be recycled and is instead dumped or burned, or finds its way into the ocean,” said Dr. Sara Brosche, a science advisor with the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) an international NGO dedicated to eliminating organic pollutants.