SANTOS, Brazil (Reuters) - A ship loaded with 1,600 tonnes of rubbish set sail on Wednesday to return the rotting cargo to Britain from Brazil, where it had been shipped falsely declared as plastic for recycling.
Eighty-nine containers packed with trash that includes dirty diapers, used syringes, food waste and computer parts were hoisted on to the freighter MSC Oriane in the early morning hours at Santos, South America’s largest port.
The incident outraged many Brazilians and prompted President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to criticize Britain and developed nations for urging higher environmental standards while using developing nations as garbage dumps.
Brazilian environment minister Carlos Minc has said he would raise the issue with Britain’s climate change minister, Ed Miliband, who is currently on an official visit to Brazil.
“It never really became a danger to health because it never left the port,” said Ingrid Oberg, head of the Brazilian environment enforcement agency Ibama in Santos, watching as the containers of garbage were hoisted onto the ship.
“The danger was if it was thrown away. There was a really bad smell and larvae and material decomposing,” she said.
Criminal investigations are under way in Britain and Brazil to discover how the waste came to be shipped this year and last to Santos and another port further south.
Brazil has fined firms that imported or handled the waste.
The importing firms said they had been expecting shipments of recyclable plastic. But even the company that alerted the authorities to the trash was fined because it had no license to recycle, Oberg said.
Brazilian law prohibits the import of household waste for any purpose, including recycling.
British police arrested three men in late July but no formal charges have been brought against them and they have been released on bail after surrendering their passports.
Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Eric Walsh