Shipping containers filled with tons of Canadian garbage are heading from the Philippines back to the northern nation they came from.
The trash ship named the M/V Bavaria contains 69 (nice) containers of garbage and left the Philippine port of Subic on Friday. The ship will carry its trashy load for 20 days over Pacific waves as it makes its way to Vancouver. As the Bavaria set sale, Philippines' Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teddy Locsin Jr snapped a picture and tweeted it out with the caption, “Baaaaaaaaa bye.”
This is the latest turn in a six-year spat between Canada and the Philippines, headed by strongman president Rodrigo Duterte, over the trash that was dumped in the country between 2013 and 2014. It’s a spat that has highlighted a little known business practice in which Western countries essentially treat developing countries like a dumping ground.
Philippines recently recalled some of their diplomats from Canada in protest for the Great White North missing the initial May 15 deadline issued by Duterte. At the time Duterte said he “will declare war against [Canada]” over the trash and told Canadian officials to "celebrate because your garbage is coming home,” and “eat it if you want to."
For years, Canada has dragged ass on the issue and really didn’t start moving on it until Duterte issued his hyperbolic statements. When Canada initially missed the May 15 deadline, Kevin Lamoureux, a Liberal MP for Winnipeg, told the Canadian Press “had [Duterte] not made the statement that he made, I suspect through the bureaucracy they would continue to be moving at a snail pace.”
"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind because of the president's actions the government of Canada has come to the table, and we are expediting it."
Canada attempted to hire a private contractor to bring the trash back at the end of June but that wasn’t good enough, so the Philippines got one themselves and the trash hit the road back home. According to the Associated Press, Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo said if Canada won’t accept the trash, they’ll just leave it in ocean.
"If Canada will not accept their trash, we will leave the same within its territorial waters," Panelo said. "The president's stance is as principled as it is uncompromising: The Philippines as an independent sovereign nation must not be treated as trash by other foreign nations."
The containers of trash were initially shipped to the Philippines by a private company, Chronic Inc. On Thursday, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the Canadian government is attempting to hold the company responsible but for now, Canada is footing the $1.14 million bill.
"The reality is developing countries no longer want to take plastic pollution or waste from developed countries and that's exactly why we have a zero-plastic waste strategy,” said McKenna. “That's why we're going to be announcing different measures soon."
Like in many developed countries, the waste management system in Canada is run by private industry. When Chronic Inc. initially sent the containers to the Philippines they were described as containing recyclables but, according to the CBC, when authorities in the country cracked the shipping containers they found soiled diapers, electronics, and plenty of day-to-day trash.
The case is a symptom to a much larger and little known problem of how our recycling industry works and how the majority of things we believe are being recycled rarely are. Only about nine percent of the worlds plastics actually are recycled. As VICE previously reported, a large portion of the plastic for the last 30 years was bought up by China or other developing countries. In these countries, the “recyclable” plastic was typically disposed of like trash or burned.
China has stopped buying garbage, introducing a ban on “foreign garbage”, and other countries like the Philippines and Malaysia aren’t accepting the recyclables anymore either. It’s created a reckoning of sorts within the recycling community. Experts have pointed out that while this may be painful in the short, in the long run, better regulation and understanding of the recycling industry could be a good thing. Joe Dunlop, a waste reduction administrator in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, told VICE in a story about this phenomenon maybe if we understand what is and isn’t recyclable we can move forward to a better system.
“It’s long overdue,” Dunlop said. “The stuff that we were sending overseas for processing was not of good quality, and we finally got called out on it.”
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