Technology & Science

Canadian garbage on its way from Philippines to Vancouver

Sixty-nine shipping containers of fetid Canadian trash are on board a container ship that has left the Philippines port of Subic. They are expected to arrive in B.C. in a month.

Fights over mislabelled Canadian trash have been going on for 6 years

The MV Bavaria departs Subic Port, northwest of Manila, carrying containers of garbage back to Canada. (Ari Trofeo)

Sixty-nine shipping containers of fetid trash are on their way back to Canada, after being loaded onto a container ship in the Philippines port of Subic.

The last container was put aboard the MV Bavaria shortly after 3 a.m. Friday in the Philippines.

Earlier in the day, Philippines Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin posted video and photos to his Twitter account showing the containers being loaded onto the ship.

"going....going...." he said in one tweet.

The ship departed for Vancouver from the Philippine port after dawn Friday. Canada has previously said it expected the garbage to be back on Canadian soil by the end of June.

Canadian officials from the embassy in Manila monitored the loading.

A Canadian official confirmed the ship was hired under a $1.14-million contract Canada signed with the Canadian arm of French shipping giant Bolloré Logistics to bring the garbage back to Canada. He said the containers were fumigated and cleaned before being loaded.

The garbage has become a diplomatic nightmare for the Canadian government as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte makes an example of Canada for trying to dump its trash on his country. It has also become a symbol of the shadiness of the global recycling industry, which sees millions of tonnes of plastics meant for recycling ending up in garbage dumps and incinerators overseas.

The Philippines is not the world's dumpsite.— Aileen Lucero, from the EcoWaste Coalition

The Canadian containers arrived in the Philippines in 2013 and 2014 falsely labelled as being full of recycling plastics. Philippine customs authorities inspected the containers and discovered about two-thirds of them to be ordinary household garbage, including electronic waste and used diapers.

There were 103 containers and about 2,500 tonnes of waste originally, but 34 containers have been disposed of locally in the Philippines, despite the objections of local environment groups.

The EcoWaste Coalition in the Philippines and RightOnCanada issued a statement Thursday calling the return of the garbage a "victory for the rule of law, morality and the environment."

Aileen Lucero, national co-ordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition, said she feels "jubilant" that the six-year battle to get the garbage returned is finally over.

Greenpeace has held protests on the waters in Subic Port where the Canadian garbage containers were waiting to be shipped out. (Greenpeace)

"The Philippines is not the world's dumpsite," she said. "Never again shall we allow other countries to trash our dignity, our people's health and the environment."

Canada's Liberals blame the former Conservative government for the original problem: the garbage arrived in the Philippines during Stephen Harper's time as prime minister. The Conservatives first tried to get the Philippines to deal with it there or find another Asian nation willing to accept the waste.

The Philippines began emptying the containers in July 2015 but stopped following a public outcry.

An ongoing crisis

The Liberals have been negotiating with the Philippines about the garbage for 3½ years, finally agreeing to bring the remaining waste back and pay for the shipments in April, after Duterte threatened to "declare war" on Canada. When a May 15 deadline for the trash to leave passed without action, the Philippines recalled its ambassador and consuls general until the trash was gone.

Locsin has said many times that the Philippines would ship the trash out itself after Canada missed the deadline but the Canadian official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said that was really just an empty threat. He said Locsin was never in favour of the Philippines taking over shipping responsibilities and was helping co-ordinate the work on the ground for Canada to do it.

New rules to come

Canada says it now has regulations that would prevent Canadian companies from sending trash to unsuspecting countries, but Malaysian officials this week said there are 60 containers of foreign trash in its ports that it wants sent back to their origin, including one from Canada. Canada is investigating that claim.

Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says she intends to unveil a national plastics-pollution plan that is expected to put more onus on plastics producers to ensure their materials are recycled or reused.

The company that sent the containers to the Philippines, Chronic Inc., based in Whitby, Ont., appears to be dormant.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.