Philippines ships 69 containers of dumped rubbish back to Canada

Tonnes of waste loaded onto ship after long campaign urging Canada to take it back; will reach Vancouver in 20 days.

Cargo ship M/V Bavaria
The M/V Bavaria as it prepares to dock at Subic Bay port in northwestern Philippines [Aaron Favila/AP]

A cargo ship carrying tonnes of rubbish from Canada dumped in the Philippines more than five years ago, causing a festering diplomatic row, has left the Southeast Asian country, as nations in the region increasingly reject serving as dumpsites for wealthier states.

The 69 shipping containers of rotting waste were loaded onto the M/V Bavaria at Subic Bay port in the early hours of Friday, before embarking on a 20-day journey to Vancouver, in southwestern Canada.

“Baaaaaaaaa bye, as we say it,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin wrote on Twitter, along with images of the vessel leaving.

Environmental activists, including those from Greenpeace and EcoWaste Coalition, welcomed the Bavaria’s arrival at Subic Bay, and on Thursday sailed on board a small outrigger with a streamer reading, “Philippines: not a garbage dumping ground!”

Diplomatic row

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had threatened to forcibly ship back the rubbish, which officials said was transported to the Philippines in 103 containers in 2013 to 2014, and falsely declared as recyclable plastic scraps. Several containers of the rubbish had been disposed of, including in a landfill, leaving 69 containers of electrical and household waste, including used diapers, rotting in two Philippine ports.

The Philippine government recalled its ambassador and consuls in Canada earlier this month over Ottawa’s failure to comply with a May 15 deadline to take back the waste.

Philippine customs officials inspect cargo containers containing tonnes of garbage shipped by Canada at Manila port
A November 2014 photo showing customs officials at Manila port inspecting containers containing tonnes of rubbish shipped by Canada [Ban Toxics/Handout via Reuters]

The return of the rubbish removes a six-year thorn in relations between the two countries, especially under Duterte, who took office in mid-2016. He has resented international criticism, including by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, of his bloody crackdown on illegal drugs that has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead.

The countries had sought to resolve the problem for years, with Trudeau saying in 2017 that legal issues preventing the return of the garbage had been resolved.

The return, however, was delayed by other issues despite Canadian assurances of its willingness to take back the garbage that Trudeau said was shipped to Manila in a private commercial transaction.

Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna welcomed the news of the rubbish being returned, telling reporters on Thursday: “We committed with the Philippines and we’re working closely with them.”

‘Grossly unfair’

Just days earlier, Malaysia announced it was shipping 450 tonnes of imported plastic waste back to its sources, including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

China had long received the bulk of scrap plastic from around the world. Last year, however, it closed its doors to foreign refuse in an effort to clean up its environment, causing other Southeast Asian nations to become new destinations.

Speaking in Tokyo on Thursday, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad also criticised the practice of wealthier countries such as the US, Canada and Japan sending their non-recyclable waste to poorer countries, calling it “grossly unfair”.

Philippine environmental groups urged the Duterte administration on Thursday to ban all imports of waste and ratify the Basel Ban Amendment, which prohibits the import of waste for any reason, including recycling. They cited the discovery of other waste shipments to the Philippines from South Korea in 2018 and more recently from Australia and Hong Kong.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies