Canada takes back remaining containers of toxic trash after 6 years


By Beting Laygo Dolor i Contributing Editor

Trash that a private Canadian company illegally shipped to the Philippines six years ago headed back to the North American country by ship that left on May 30.

There’s just one catch: of the 103 containers that entered the country in 2013 and 2014, only 69 were sent back because the rest had already been disposed of in local landfills.

The shipment had entered the Philippines under the guise of “recyclable plastic.”

Canada had balked at retrieving the trash because it had been exported and received by private companies.

The return shipment left the Port of Manila and headed for Subic, before heading for Taiwan, then ultimately Vancouver, Canada. The US$264,000 (about PHP10 million) cost will be shouldered by Canada.

The shipment was turned into a diplomatic row by the Duterte administration, with President Rodrigo Duterte even threatening to declare war against Canada if the country did nothing to retrieve the shipment, which is banned under international law.

So incensed was Duterte by the delays in the return of the trash that he even vowed to ship it back and dump the containers in Canadian waters, with the Philippines taking care of the shipping cost.

“The garbage is gone. Good riddance,” Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin tweeted.

The end of the “trash war” is expected to return to normal the friendly relations between the Philippines and Canada, where hundreds of thousands of Filipinos reside and work and large numbers becoming Canadian citizens.

Up until the time that the shipment left the country, the Duterte administration had banned government officials from going to Canada for any reason, official or otherwise. The Philippine ambassador and other diplomats who had been recalled last month were ordered to return to Ottawa this week.

In recent months, it has been discovered that several First World countries had been shipping their trash to developing nations due to extremely strict laws regarding disposal of toxic material in their home countries.

The trash sent to the Philippines is typical of what has been shipped out by the developed nations, comprised of plastic inclusive of used bottles and diapers.

Last week, it was learned that trash from Hong Kong had been shipped to the Philippines but the containers were blocked by the Bureau of Customs since landing in the port of Misamis province last February.

That “trial shipment” was mostly obsolete electronic devices that had been crushed but remain toxic.

Another shipment of 200 tons of garbage from Australia was found to have landed in Manila last month.

Last year, electronic trash from South Korea was intercepted at the port of Manila.

The recent revelations that garbage, notably toxic trash, was regularly being shipped to the Philippines, has angered not only environmentalists but ordinary citizens as well.

“Illegal waste dumping in developing countries should be stopped at all cost,” said Abigail Aguilar of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “We are not a garbage dump.”

Two of the Philippines’ next door neighbors, Indonesia and Malaysia, have also been recipients of toxic trash from First World countries.

The global problem of toxic trash disposal worsened after China blocked the entry of such shipments last year. Previously, China was willing to accept the shipments of used plastic for proper disposal due to the substantial payments involved.

Most plastic is non-biodegradable such that burying them in landfills is harmful to the environment. Burning plastic is also not an option since toxic gases are released consequently.

Of late, numerous cases of whales and other sea life have been found dead after accidentally consuming plastic that now pollutes the seas of the world.

Throughout the world, including the Philippines, plastic products such as shopping bags and drinking straws are banned. In extreme cases, ubiquitous disposable, single-use plastic bottles are also banned. Consumers are advised to use reusable or refillable bottles.