Canada’s Environmental Principles Are All Rubbish When it Comes to the Philippines

Photo credit: EcoWaste Coalition

Back in 2013, Canada illegally shipped more than 100 garbage containers to the Philippines.

The contents of the containers were labeled as recyclable materials when they arrived in the country, but after further inspection by the Philippine Bureau of Customs they found that the contents included household trash, electronic waste, and non-recyclable materials. Less than half of the containers were illegally dumped in private dump sites in the province of Tarlac and the rest of the containers were left in the ports of Subic and Manila.

Chronic Plastic Inc., a Whitby-based plastic exporter, was accused of violating the Republic Act 9003 (better known as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act) and the 1995 Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Disposal.

According to an interview with CTV News, Jim Makris owner of Chronic Plastic Inc., denied the allegations that he shipped garbage to the Philippines. However in a legal opinion written by The Pacific Centre for Law and Litigation, the facts seem to back the Philippine government. According to their April 10, 2019 opinion:

Chronic Inc. and its Philippine-based consignees transported 103 container vans of wastes from Canada to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014. The container vans were falsely declared to contain homogenous plastic scrap material when in fact these shipments contained heterogeneous waste including baled household garbage which violated the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. The Basel Convention, of which Canada is a signatory, applies to the shipments of wastes in question because the contents of the container vans were wastes deemed to be hazardous under Philippine law and therefore are “hazardous wastes” within the meaning of the Basel Convention, or in any case were household wastes within the meaning of “other wastes” under the Basel Convention. In our opinion, there is a strong argument that Canada has failed to discharge its obligation under Article 9 of the Basel Convention to ensure that the shipments of wastes in question are returned to Canada. Article 9 imposes an obligation on the State of export to ensure the return of wastes where the movement of the wastes are deemed to constitute “illegal traffic”. The shipments of wastes in question were “illegal traffic” under Article 9; paragraph 1(a) because Chronic Inc. did not obtain consent from Philippine authorities to transport heterogeneous household garbage waste. Alternatively, the shipments were “illegal traffic” in accordance with Article 9; paragraph 1(b) because Chronic Inc. obtained consent from Philippine authorities to transport the wastes through falsification, misrepresentation or fraud. In any case, the shipments are deemed to be “illegal traffic” under Article 9, paragraph 1(c) because the contents of the shipments did not conform in a material way with the declarations provided within the notification and movement documents that accompanied the shipments. In the case of “illegal traffic” of hazardous or other wastes as a result of conduct by an exporter, Article 9, paragraph 2 imposes an obligation on the State of export to ensure the return of the wastes or, if impracticable, otherwise dispose of the wastes in accordance with the provisions of the Basel Convention. The provision imposes a 30-day timeline from the time the State of export was notified of the illegal traffic. Philippine authorities have notified Canada of the illegal traffic of these wastes as early as March 2014 and have sought Canada’s assistance in returning the wastes. To date, Canada has refused to take back any of the wastes in question. Canada’s continued failure to ensure the return of the wastes in question violates Article 9, paragraph 2 of the Basel Convention. Aside from Canada’s violation of Article 9, Canada has also failed to meet several provisions under Article 4, which sets out the general obligations of Parties. Firstly, Canada has violated Article 4; paragraph 10, which forbids the transfer of the obligation to properly manage hazardous or other wastes from the State in which the wastes are generated to the State of import. In this matter, Canada has failed to take responsibility to properly manage the wastes in question, which were generated in Canada, and have left the Philippine government with the burden of dealing with the wastes, contrary to Article 4, paragraph 10. Secondly, prior to legislative amendments that came into effect in 2016, Canada has failed to impose criminal liability for illegal traffic in household wastes contrary to the requirements under Article 4, paragraph 3 and Article 9, paragraph 5. Lastly, Canada’s current statutory regime governing the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes fails to properly implement and enforce the provisions of the Basel Convention as required under Article 4, paragraph 4. The Basel Convention imposes a 30-day time limit for the State of export to ensure the return of wastes back to the State of export in the case of illegal traffic. (The relevant statutory regime in Canada imposes a 90-day time limit). Canada’s failure to properly implement the 30-day time limit violates Article 4, paragraph 4 of the Basel Convention.

South Korea had the same issue in July 2017 when 4,397 tons of their garbage arrived at the Mindanao Port in the Philippines. According to Korean Customs records, Greenpeace said the amount of waste exported in 2018 from the East Asian nation to the Philippines bwteen January to September was 11,588 tons, more than double compared to the previous year.

Greenpeace Philippines campaigner Abigail Aguilar told the Philippine Star, “While the Philippines itself is reeling from the amount of plastic waste we are generating, it is distressing that other countries are still looking at us to dispose of their wastes. No amount of profit will justify the amount of garbage we receive from rich countries, be it from Canada or South Korea.”

South Korea brought back the 51 containers that were sent to the Philippines in July 2017. Canada, on the other hand, has not done anything about the garbage they disposed of in the Philippines.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper was the PM of Canada when the garbage containers arrived in the Philippines back in 2013. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, he said he was committed to resolving the issue.

In April, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to “go to war” with Canada. “I'll give a warning to Canada maybe next week that they better pull that (trash) out," he said in a press conference last month. "We'll declare war against them, we can handle them anyway."

“I cannot understand why they’re making us a dumpsite,” President Duterte told CNN Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte announced that Canada has until May 15th to take back the tons of trash. On May 7, Canadian government official agreed to paying the full cost to bring the 69 garbage-laden shipping containers back to Vancouver but have not said how much it will cost and when it will happen.

It’s about time.