Between 2013 and 2014, Canada dumped more than 100 shipping containers of garbage disguised as plastics for recycling at the Manila International Container Port in the Philippines. The trash consisted of electronic and household waste such as used adult diapers, newspapers, plastic bottles, and bags. Between June and August 2013, Canadian plastics exporter Chronic Inc. dumped 50 shipping container vans containing household trash that arrived in 6 batches in Manila. The Bureau of Customs discovered the garbage on January 21, 2014 when they opened the container vans as part of procedures on shipments not claimed for a long period of time. The discovered waste are classified as hazardous as per Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Waste and Control Act of 1990, or Republic Act 6969.
This week, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to "declare war" against Canada within the next week if the country fails to remove the garbage. In remarks aired by state media, President Duterte said, "I will declare war against them. I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to. Your garbage is coming home,” adding, “I cannot understand why they are making us a dumpsite.”
For the past six years, Canada has attempted to to convince the Philippines to dispose of the garbage there, despite a Filipino court ordering the trash returned to Canada in 2016. Anthony Ho, a British Columbia lawyer for the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation, said the shipments violate multiple parts of the Basel Convention, a 30-year-old treaty that prevents countries from shipping hazardous waste to the developing world without their consent.
When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Manila in 2015, he said that a "Canadian solution" was being developed and said the situation would not occur again. PM Trudeau has acknowledged that the garbage has been a long-standing irritant for the Philippines. During a 2017 trip to Manila for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit, he told President Duterte that Ottawa was working on the issue. "I committed to him, as I'm happy to commit to you all now, that Canada is very much engaged in finding a solution on that," PM Trudeau said at the time.
Upon announcement of the threat of war, a spokesperson for Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said, “Canada is strongly committed to collaborating with the Philippines government to resolve this issue and is aware of the court decision ordering the importer to ship the material back to Canada. A joint technical working group, consisting of officials from both countries, is examining the full spectrum of issues related to the removal of the waste with a view to a timely resolution.”
President Duterte has long objected to the Trudeau administration after the PM scolded him during an in-person meeting in 2017 over his campaign of killing drug suspects without due process. President Duterte responded by calling PM Trudeau’s remarks “bullshit,” and told reporters, “[I]t is a personal and official insult. That is why you hear me chewing down curses, epithets, and bullshit and everything because it angers me when you are a foreigner you do not know what is happening in this country. I only answer to the Filipino. I will not answer to any other bullshit, especially foreigners. Lay off.” PM Trudeau had claimed that Duterte was “receptive” to his comments beforehand. President Duterte then cancelled a business deal between the two countries after Canada ordered a review into the contract over human rights abuses.
The Global Garbage Market
The top 20 countries that are used as dumping grounds for garbage are the Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, Somalia, China, India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Kenya, Guinea, Haiti, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau, Lebanon, South Africa, and Sweden. In developing countries, plastics are often burned, not recycled, by factories for heat and power. China had been taking in half the world's unwanted paper and plastic for recycling before deciding in July 2017 that it would ban 24 types of solid waste beginning in 2018. On average, 20,000 tons of material was arriving there daily, in addition to glass, scrap metal, and other waste. Now, garbage exporting countries are struggling with mounting stockpiles in their countries, unable to ship as much out.
Since the 1990s, e-waste has become the fastest-growing component of the world's solid waste, especially with the proliferation of small consumer electronic devices, such as cellphones and portable music players, in industrialized and developing countries. E-waste is usually brought to massive facilities where it is processed by impoverished labourers who have little protection against the toxins they are exposed to. The electronics are burned to melt away plastic casings and get at the valuable metals inside, like copper and gold. Workers, including children and pregnant women, spend every day in clouds of poisonous smoke. Other hazardous materials like lead from the glass in old televisions and computer monitors coats workers' hands and seeps into groundwater, harming animals and ecosystems.
Despite people in the West paying for and utilizing municipal garbage and recycling collection programs in high numbers to supposedly reduce landfill and carbon emissions, this claim is false. It has emerged that the level of waste that is recycled has been exaggerated.
Every week, Canadians pay fees for municipal pick-up of garbage, recycling, and other waste sorted by various colored bins. However, the majority of what is put into these ‘recyclable’ bins ends up in the landfill and a small percent – less than 20 percent – is sold on the international market. Tonnes of recyclables are shipped overseas, causing environmental and health problems in developing nations, such as the Philippines. Canada's government opposes stronger international laws to ban rich nations from dumping their trash on the world's poor. A new Environment Canada report said Parliament should consider a plastic tax and researchers cautioned the tax would cost consumers since plastics are found in almost every manufactured product.
British officials from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently admitted that tonnes of waste carefully sorted by families for recycling has been buried in landfill. A department paper revealed that most managers at plants that recycle garbage for industrial use say that at best “some” – and in other cases “hardly any” – of the waste sent to them is usable. Recycling has now levelled off and amounts of household rubbish sent to power-generating incinerators are going up.