24 April 2019, Quezon City. An environmental health and justice organization urged the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take back at once the thousands of tons of Canadian garbage languishing in the country’s ports to bring the long-drawn-out dumping controversy to a close.
The EcoWaste Coalition’s latest plea came on the heels of two recent developments regarding this dumping controversy that has dragged on for five years without tangible resolution.
First, President Rodrigo Duterte on April 23 slammed Canada over the illegal garbage exports that have yet to be re-exported to its origin despite the statement Trudeau made in Manila in 2017 that “it is now theoretically possible to get (the wastes) back.”
Second, a clear legal opinion released on April 10 by a respected Canadian environmental law center confirming that Canada is obliged under the Basel Convention to take back the wastes.
“President Duterte has once again spoken against the garbage imports from Canada stressing that the Philippines is not a dumpsite. His latest tirade reflects our nation’s gross disappointment over Canada’s failure to act with dispatch to reclaim their wastes, which arrived in batches in the port of Manila in 2013 and 2014,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.
“Now that President Duterte has given a seeming ultimatum for Canada to act and now that there is a clear-cut legal opinion confirming that Canada has the obligation to take back the wastes illegally shipped to the Philippines, we urge Prime Minister Trudeau to do what is right to bring this hullabaloo to rest. Canada should comply with the Basel Convention, take the wastes back, and process them in an environmentally responsible way in Canada, not in the Philippines,” she said.
“We are counting on Canada to announce without delay a clear and definite date by which it will take back its wastes,” she emphasized.
The upcoming 14th Basel Convention Conference of the Parties, which also marks the 30th anniversary of the treaty, in Geneva, Switzerland starting April 29 provides a good platform for Canada to make the announcement for the take-back of the dumped wastes as this will show its commitment to the treaty, the group said.
To prevent the country from turning into a global dumpsite, the EcoWaste Coalition urged the Duterte government to outlaw foreign waste importation and to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment, which prohibits the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes from developed to developing countries.
“The Canadian dumping scandal serves as a stark reminder of the insufficiency of our laws and the need for a stronger defense against the entry of wastes and toxics that could be better managed in exporting countries.” Lucero emphasized.
According to the legal opinion prepared by lawyers at the Victoria BC-based Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation, “there is a strong argument that Canada has violated the Basel Convention in respect of the transboundary movements of wastes from Canada to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014 by the Canadian-based company Chronic Inc.”
The shipments of the wastes were “illegal traffic” under Article 9 of the Basel Convention, since the wastes were falsely declared to contain homogeneous plastic scrap material when in fact these shipments contained mixed waste including household garbage and since the wastes were deemed to be hazardous under Philippine law, the legal opinion said.
Philippine authorities 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. This refusal violates Article 9, paragraph 2 of the Basel Convention.
In June 2016, Judge Tita Bughao-Alisuag of the Regional Trial Court of Manila (Branch 1) ordered the return of the garbage-filled containers covered by Criminal Case No. 143-11191 stressing that the Philippines is not a “trash bin” and that the dumping incident “should not be made a precedent for other countries to follow.”
The EcoWaste Coalition is a “complainant-in-intervention”, together with other public interest groups, in the said court case against the importer and customs broker for the botched garbage shipments.
To recall, 103 container vanss of mixed garbage from Canada, wrongly declared as scrap plastics for recycling, entered the port of Manila in 2013-2014. The Bureau of Customs intercepted the illegal shipments upon notification by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
According to the DENR, the garbage shipments are in violation of DENR Administrative Order 2013-22, which states that “no importation of heterogenous and unsorted plastic materials shall be allowed” and that “all plastics shall have no traces of toxic materials.”
As per the waste analysis and characterization study conducted by the DENR in 2014, approximately 64 percent of the intercepted Canadian garbage shipments were “baled municipal solid waste or garbage destined for immediate local disposal and cannot be recycled.”
In 2015, wastes from 26 of the 103 containers were illegally disposed of at a private landfill in Tarlac province angering officials and citizens.
At present, 77 containers are sitting at the ports of Manila and Subic.