Garbage shipped back to Canada

Community News & Features Jun 28, 2019 at 3:26 pm
Sarah King of Greenpeace Canada (Photo from her Twitter)

Sarah King of Greenpeace Canada
(Photo from her Twitter)

69 containers of Canada’s garbage leave Philippines

By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

A six-year dispute between Manila and the Ottawa has seen its eventual resolution. Sixty-nine container vans of recycling and other wastes have been shipped back to Canada.
The cargo was first loaded on the Liberian-registered ship, M/V Bavaria, and shipped part way before being transferred to a larger vessel, the Danish container ship Anna Maersk, which passed through South Korea and is due to arrive at the port of Vancouver in late June.

“Anchors aweigh,” Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna wrote in a tweet. “The containers of garbage have departed the Philippines and will arrive in Canada in four weeks, where the waste will be turned into energy that’ll power homes in British Columbia.”

Canada’s garbage leaving Manila (Photo via Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Twitter)

Canada’s garbage leaving Manila
(Photo via Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Twitter)

Vessel Finder, a website that monitors shipping movement, shows Anna Maersk  is off the coast of the Korean peninsula, as of this writing.

It took a threat of war from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte before Canada took out the 1,500 tons of trash. Both countries had sought to resolve the problem for years, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying in 2017 that legal issues preventing the return of the garbage had been resolved.

However, the repatriation was delayed by other issues despite assurances from Canada expressing its willingness to take back the garbage even if a private commercial exporter was urged to foot the bill. The contract value is more than $1.1 million. The private Whitby, Ontario-based company isn’t being held liable because it no longer exists.

Meanwhile, the return shipment doesn’t include all of the disputed Canadian trash; waste from about 26 of the containers was buried in a Philippine landfill when Canada disowned responsibility for the shipment. The other eight containers were also reportedly disposed, according to local NGO group EcoWaste Coalition.

‘Disappointed’ diplomacies

In May, the Philippine government put a fresh spin on the rhetoric by recalling its ambassador and consuls in Canada over Ottawa’s failure to follow with a set deadline. Canadian foreign ministry expressed it’s disappointment by their counterpart’s decisions

Canada-Philippines relations is slowly normalizing after the trash tiff being the latest thorn in the seventy-year old foreign diplomacy. Since Duterte took office in mid-2016, he has resented international criticism, including by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, of his bloody crackdown on illegal drugs that has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead.

Last year, Duterte ordered the military to cancel a $233M deal to buy 16 helicopters from Canada due to concerns raised by International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines that the military might use the aircraft in counterinsurgency assaults.

Global waste trade

While importing recyclable waste has been a lucrative business in countries in Asia, recently there has been a backlash against the use of these less developed countries as dumping grounds by wealthier western nations. They have become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of waste.

China, which has historically imported nearly half of the world’s plastic waste, has disrupted the global waste trade in 2013 by banning the import of plastic and other waste materials. Wealthier nations scrambled to find new countries to divert their waste to. Waste is now being kept in warehouses waiting to be exported.

Other countries in Asia Pacific region are struggling to cope with the influx in waste imports that China used to manage. In particular, the Philippines has borne the brunt of re-directed waste from Canada, South Korea and Australia.

But the fracas was symptomatic of a broader regional pushback that began last year when Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam all introduced laws to restrict plastic waste imports.

Basel Convention

At a May 10 United Nations conference in Geneva, 180 countries have agreed to a new rule that may help. The rule would add plastic scrap to the list of materials covered by the Basel Convention, a 1992 treaty on the control  movement of hazardous waste between nations. From 2020, the Malaysian, Philippine, and Thai governments have the right to refuse waste that they did not consent to importing.

Conspicuously absent in the U.N. conference is the U.S., the world’s second largest waste producer, which is not a party to the Basel Convention.

For Sarah King, Greenpeace Canada Head of Oceans & Plastics Campaign, countries in the “Global North” like Canada cannot continue to offload their plastic problem on other countries and the Basel Convention ban amendment “doesn’t stop plastic from flowing to these countries.”

“As part of Canada’s Nation Zero Plastic Waste Strategy, it must do more to not just ensure compliance with the amendment but to move to prohibit the export of all plastic, including alleged recycling, to the Global South,” King wrote in an email to The Philippine Reporter.

Asked for a comment if there are other foreign countries thinking of sending garbage to the Philippines, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. said: “There is nothing more to say,” according to media reports.

“The garbage containers were loaded on the Maersk ship under my department’s eyes and it sailed away. I kept media away but assured them they could wave baaaaaaabye as ship slipped beneath the horizon. Full cooperation from the Canadian government.”