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Garbage of contention

Even 10 years ago no one could have imagined that garbage may be a reason for a diplomatic scandal. But now in a world of climate change urgency this looks like real. The story of 6 years negotiations, discussions, and threats over litter between Philippines and Canada has finally resolved in peaceful way this week.

And the story begins

Canadian garbage was delivered to the Philippines in 2013-2014. More than a hundred containers had inside them household waste, including plastic bottles, plastic bags, waste paper and used diapers. Philippine’s authorities have declared that all rubbish. As due to the contract between private companies of two countries there must have been only recyclable garbage. 

In 2016 the Philippines won a legal case, which ruled Canada had to take responsibility for the waste, but no further action was taken by the Canadian government. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte then took a very personal interest in the case, demanding that Canada take back the waste or vowing to have it towed and dumped in Canadian waters. 

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

The relationship between Duterte and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was already tense due to Trudeau’s vocal criticism of Duterte’s violent crackdown on illegal drugs, which has left thousands dead.

Last week McKenna said the government had awarded a contract to French shipping giant Bollore Logistics Canada, calling for the return of the containers by the end of June.

But presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo rejected the plan, saying the Duterte administration would look for a private shipping company to transport the garbage sooner and would shoulder the costs themselves.

“If Canada will not accept their trash, we will leave the same within its territorial waters,” Panelo said. “The president’s stance is as principled as it is uncompromising: The Philippines as an independent sovereign nation must not be treated as trash by other foreign nations.”

After months of diplomatic disputes, Philippines returns more than 1,300 tons of garbage to Canada. The bulk carrier MV Bavaria with 69 containers on Friday, May 31, left the Subic Bay harbor. In late June, this Liberian-flagged ship is due to arrive in Vancouver on the west coast of Canada. Wilma Eisma, administrator of Subic Bay freeport said the move ended a “sordid chapter in our history”.

Garbage as a threat to tourism

Canadian waste caused such indignation from the authorities of the Philippines due to the fact that they could harm the flow of tourists. The islands are largely depend on foreign travelers as long as the whole economy of the Philippines is largely dependent on coastal tourism. As of In 2017, 4.99 million locals worked in the tourism sector.

Therefore, environmental protection is a significant factor for the island state. The theme of landfills for the Philippines is so significant that last year the head of state even closed the island of Boracay, which gained fame as one of the world’s best places for a beach holiday.

In 2016, the island was declared the best by the American magazine Conde Nast Traveler. In 2018, he entered the TOP-25 best places for recreation according to the TripAdvisor. Only in 2017, Boracay took about two million tourists, and the income from them exceeded a billion dollars, as reported by National Geographic Russia. However, it turned out that tourists literally trample the famous island. Ecology for the authorities of the Philippines turned out to be more important than income and they banned visiting Boracay, allocating funds to restore its affected ecology.

Not the only one in a boat

The Philippines is among a growing number of south-east Asian nations that have protested being treated like dumpsites by wealthier countries. China banned the import of plastic waste in 2018, causing it to be diverted to other south-east Asian nations, with over 50% of plastic waste from the US now ending up in Malaysia.

The Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has criticised the practice of wealthier countries such as the UK, United States, Canada and Japan sending their non-recyclable waste to poorer countries, and his government has become the latest to start sending the rubbish back.

On Tuesday, Malaysian environment minister Yeo Bee Yin said that Malaysia had already sent back five containers of illegal waste from Spain and would be returning 3,000 tonnes of illegally imported plastic waste from the UK, the US, Australia, Japan, France and Canada.

Philippines case solved but the whole problem continues to escalate however. On Friday, Malaysian customs said there were 265 containers of abandoned plastic waste, illegally imported from from Hong Kong, Canada, Belgium, Germany and the US, sitting in a port in Penang.

Who is going to clean up international trash?

Recycling has become a global problem that requires a global solution, once declared Alexandra Batiy, the vice-president of the Eastern European Association of the Greens. However, she added that there is no international organization that would deal with this.

Daniel Warner, the professor of political science from Switzerland says that nowadays every single country takes care of the garbage itself. There are no rules on how to deal with waste. There is no international law regarding the interaction with garbage.

However, according to Warner, the international community will not pay attention to this problem until an excessive amount of waste or their incorrect disposal results in a danger to nature or human health.

“If this problem develops into something more, then it will be solved at the international level. So far – exclusively at the national, ”- said the professor of political sciences. Still the responsibility for the disposal is borne by each country separately.

Warner cited the example of Rwanda – a country where they themselves take care of the problem of garbage.
If you fly to this country, you cannot bring plastic bags with you, for example. It is simply forbidden. There are no plastic bags in Rwanda.