Leaving a bunch of trash rotting on the shores of another country across the world for years without any plan to remove it seems like a pretty uncharacteristic move for Canada, but it’s exactly what we’ve been doing to the Philippines for approximately six years. After continually escalating threats from the Philippine government and President Rodrigo Duterte, Canada FINALLY announced Wednesday that they have a plan in place to remove the garbage by June.
So what the heck happened and how did we get here?
The beginning – 2013
Over the course of 2013 and 2014, the plastic recycling company Chronic Plastics Inc. allegedly shipped 103 shipping containers of Canadian garbage from Vancouver to Manila, Philippines, declaring it to be recyclable plastic. Upon it’s arrival, customs officials instead found most of the containers had transported what they described as, “household trash, plastic bottles and bags, newspapers, and used adult diapers.” They disposed of 26 containers of the trash, but refused to accept the rest—a move which Philippine officials argued legally needed to be respected by Canada under the Basal Convention. According to the convention, which covers the transportation of hazardous waste, “the exporting country must take back the waste materials if the receiving country refuses to accept them.”
Spoiler: Canada totally didn’t.
Technically, Canada refused on the grounds that the garbage was municipal waste, not hazardous waste. The remaining 77 containers sat quietly untouched until 2016 when this whole thing got ratcheted up a notch.
The back and forth – 2016, 2017
As you might expect, the Philippine government and citizenry was NOT pleased about the whole “Canada using them as a dumping ground” thing so in 2016, a Philippine court ruled that Canada had to take the trash back or else. Nothing happened until 2017 when Justin Trudeau visited the country for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit. He acknowledged the problem but said that Canadian law prohibited the country from retrieving the garbage and that he and the government were figuring out a workaround.
“We also discussed the garbage issue which has been a long-standing irritant and I committed to him as I am happy to commit to you all now that Canada is very much engaged in finding a solution on that,” Trudeau told reporters at the time.
Spoiler: he totally didn’t.
Trudeau said that they were still working out how to divide the financial responsibility.
Renewed threats – 2019
After five years of this, President Duterte was fed. up. Prompted by a devastating earthquake on the Luzon island of the Philippines, the leader declared that Canada better get its act together or he would declare war. Yeah, seriously.
“I want a boat prepared. I’ll give a warning to Canada maybe next week that they better pull that thing out or I will set sail,” he said. “I’ll pour their garbage there.
“We’ll declare war against them,” he continued. “We’ll fight with Canada. We can take them down. I’ll return their trash just wait and see.
“Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to,” he added.
That got some global attention—as threatening war tends to do—and finally elicited a response from the Canadian government.
On Wednesday, May 22, Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna FINALLY announced that they have awarded a $1.14 million contract to Bolloré Logistics Canada to remove the garbage from the Philippines by the end of June this year. She added that it will be treated and disposed of in Canada by the end of the summer.
McKenna’s statement came after more threats from Duterte earlier in the week that he would hire a private shipping company to deposit 69 containers of garbage in Canadian waters. The other 34 have been dealt with by other means.
“Canada values its deep and long-standing relationship with the Philippines and has been working closely with Filipino authorities to find a solution that is mutually acceptable,” McKenna said.
It might take a little while to fully rebuild that relationship, however. In a press conference following the announcement, the president’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said the country is deeply insulted by Canada’s handling of the situation.
“Obviously, Canada is not taking this issue nor our country seriously,” he said. “The Filipino people are gravely insulted about Canada treating this country as a dumpsite.
“We are extremely disappointed with Canada’s neither-here-nor-there pronouncement on the matter.”
Hopefully we’ve reached the end of this drama, but Canada’s certainly got some work to do when it comes to that particular relationship.