Canada will take back dozens of shipping containers full of trash from the Philippines “sooner than later,” a Philippine official said this week. Canada’s agreement to take back the garbage, which has been rotting for up to six years in Manila, may end a battle, but the wider war is just beginning as wealthy nations face mounting resistance from developing ones fed up with being dumping grounds.
“The [Philippine] Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that the Canadian government has already directed a shipping company to get the trash back,” Philippine presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said on Tuesday. The Philippine government recalled its ambassador to Canada to force the country to take the trash back.
When the 103 containers arrived in Manila in 2013 and 2014, they were falsely declared as containing recyclable plastics. An investigation later revealed the trash included household waste, including dirty diapers.
But it was far from the first time big shipments of trash were sent to countries like the Philippines. Southeast Asian nations have long been a dumping ground for waste from wealthier countries, but they’ve started pushing back.
David Azoulay, managing attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law, told CBS News that while reports have accused countries including China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam of dumping the most plastics into the oceans, it isn’t their fault.
“When you compare those countries with the waste trade flow, what you find is those countries that are regularly reported as the biggest offenders or the biggest polluters of the ocean are in fact the ones receiving most waste from developed countries,” he told CBS News. “When those countries are usually referred to as the biggest polluters of the ocean in the world, the accurate way to talk about them would be to call them the most polluted countries.”
Countries which have for years received global waste are now taking measures to curb the imports. China restricted the import of paper, plastic and other recyclables in January of 2018.
CBS News’ Irina Ivanova reported in March that while the U.S. shipped 760 million tons of scrap plastic to China in 2016, that figure plummeted by 95 percent last year after China tightened its standards on the materials it would accept. U.S. processors then shifted exports south to Southeast Asia, but the flood of trash led many of those countries to impose their own plastic bans. Ivanova said that Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and India have all banned scrap plastic imports since last fall.
Earlier this month, exporting countries adopted an agreement at the United Nations to first get consent from receiving countries to dump waste that is contaminated or includes mixed or unrecyclable plastics.
Azoulay told CBS News that such preventative measures are the best way to solve the problems associated with the mass export of waste — which he said can amount to a violation of the human rights of people in the importing nations.
“A lot of those waste shipments have impact on their right to health, on the right to sanitation and access to water, on the right to food in many cases, because it can endanger food sources in the communities in the receiving countries,” he said.
But getting a country to take unwanted garbage back can be long and tedious process, as was the case with Canada and the Philippines. Azoulay said it’s sometimes impossible, as the companies doing the dumping can’t be reliably identified.
“We know that in many cases, those companies are fake companies or shell companies that will disappear as soon as the shipment is made or that will use fake importing companies for that to be dumped,” he said.
In the dispute between Canada and the Philippine government, the festering containers of trash had been a cause of escalating tension for years. The Philippines’ firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte even threated “war” over the issue.
“For Canada’s garbage, I want a boat prepared,” he said at a recent news conference. “They better pull that thing out or I will set sail to Canada and dump their garbage there. Let’s fight, Canada. I will declare war against them.”
Despite Canada saying it will take the shipping containers back, Aileen Lucero, 원주콜걸 National Coordinator at the Ecowaste Coalition, a Philippines-based group advocating for waste reduction, told CBS News the Canadian government has yet to file for the export permits to do so.
“No export permits have been filed yet,” she told CBS News. “We really want the Canadian government to fast track this so it won’t further escalate the conflict.”
Canada’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change did not respond to CBS News’ request for comment before the publishing of this story.
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