If Countries Could Deal with Their Own Toxic Waste, That Would Be Great

Five years later, the Philippines is still waiting for Canada to collect the huge load of hazardous waste it dumped in Manila.

by Mustika Hapsoro
18 February 2019, 3:13am

Image via Shutterstock

This article originally appeared on VICE Asia

If you’ve ever lived with other people, then you most likely know that one person who never fails to skip garbage disposal duty and leave a huge pile of trash in the kitchen until it gets so bad someone else have no choice to do the dirty work.

Now picture that but instead of one measly garbage bin, said housemate moves away—over 11,000 kilometers away to be exact—and leave you with over 2,500 tonnes of trash.

Canada is that awful housemate, and now people in the Philippines have to deal with the mess.

It all started in 2013 when Chronic Inc, a plastics exporter based in Ontario sent 103 shipping containers filled with around 2,500 tonnes of plastic waste that was supposed to be recycled in the Philippines. However, after the ships docked in Manila, the bureau of customs (BOC) soon found out that instead of recyclable plastic waste, the containers carried a stinking mix of household trash and hazardous waste, including spoiled diapers.

In an interview with Canadian media in 2014, owner Jim Makris denied shipping hazardous waste to the Philippines. He even claimed that he was being punished for failing to pay off Filipino officials when his containers arrived. Makris has refused to speak to the press since then.

Despite pressure from local environmental groups and local government, then President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, failed to address the problem when he met with then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a state visit in May 2015.

Watch: China's Waste Ban Is Causing A Trash Crisis In The U.S. (HBO)

Today, five years later, the stench is getting out of hand and there’s been a large number of protests this week to demand Canada to finally take back its trash. The folks at the EcoWaste Coalition of the Philippines, a local network leading the fight against foreign waste, are leading the fight, and they're supported by environmental groups worldwide. There has been protests in Canada as well to demand the government’s accountability.

During the ASEAN-Canada Summit in 2017, Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau has assured President Duterte that they will find a solution to resolve the issue. Unlike his statement when he first went to the Philippines in 2015, Trudeau says it was now “theoretically” possible for Canada to bring back 103 container vans of trash illegally shipped to the country.

“Even though it originally came from Canada, we had legal barriers and restrictions that prevented us from being able to take it back,” Trudeau told Rappler then after the summit. “Those regulations and those impediments have now been addressed, so it is now theoretically possible to get it back."

Trudeau has yet to make good on his word, even though picking up the trash you've left in another country has been proven to be entirely possible. Just in January, South Korea took back 1,400 tonnes of trash that was mislabeled as recyclable materials that it sent to the Philippines in July 2018.

The Philippines isn’t the only country that’s serving as a dumping site by foreign countries. After China introduced its ban on foreign waste imports in 2018, Southeast Asian countries has become a new dumping ground for the West.

According to an investigation by Greenpeace, one of the biggest waste importers is Malaysia, and it was revealed that much of the waste sent there to be recycled was instead dumped, burned or left to rot. The trash comes from more than 19 countries including the UK, New Zealand, Sweden, Spain, Japan, and Switzerland. Meanwhile in Indonesia, it’s legal to import scrap metal, with the condition that standards are maintained, however, it’s not uncommon that contaminated waste get mixed into the pile.

After customs officials have found an increasing number of import violations, Southeast Asian countries are beginning to restrict waste exports including recyclable plastic. In the Philippines, the EcoWaste Coalition has appealed to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to totally ban the entry of plastic and other wastes into the country.

“We request DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu to impose tough measures that will prevent discarded plastics that could no longer enter China from being diverted into the Philippines due to loopholes in existing regulations,” Aileen Lucero, a EcoWaste Coalition National Coordinator told local media last month.

Banning all waste imports may not be an attractive solution here because one man's trash is literally another man's treasure. China alone has made $57.6 billion USD since 1992—the first year they made the data available—from processing garbage all over the world. And when managed properly, importing waste can have positive results that benefit the environment. Take Sweden as an example. The Scandinavian nation happily takes trash from other countries to keep its recycling plants running because it's run out of its own recycled materials that it converts into energy and fuel that powers public transportations and heats homes.

But that stuff is different from the toxic waste that's currently rotting in Manila. So get your act together, Canada. You stink.

This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.