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For two years, 50 shipping containers of Canadian garbage have been expensively rotting in the Philippines, at the expense of Filipinos. The containers were  shipped as recyclable plastic scrap in 2013, but reportedly contained a mixture of plastics with other household wastes, including adult diapers.It is contrary to Philippines law to import mixed wastes, so the government impounded the shipment. Filipino environmental groups argue that Canada should take the waste back under the Basel Convention. Canada has refused, as the Basel Convention only applies to hazardous wastes, and Philippine shipment, while disgusting, is not “hazardous” under the Convention.

Ontario-based Chronic Inc. reportedly shipped the “recyclables”  to Manila for processing by its Valenzuela-based consignee, Chronic Plastics. Chronic Inc. no longer seems to be in business. Canada says the matter  is a private contractual dispute between the two companies.

According to the environmental group Ban Toxics, the Philippines government has spend millions of dollars storing this garbage, most of it in demurrage payments to the owners of the ship where the containers have been sitting. Now, more than two years after the “recyclables” were seized, the Philippine government has abandoned its campaign to send the garbage back to Canada, and will put it into a local landfill.

The entire episode has given Canada’s environmental reputation another avoidable black eye. While there are excellent legal and business reasons to treat recyclable materials differently from waste, these reasons disappear if Canadian authorities don’t enforce the requirements that recyclable materials be just that: clean, separated recyclables, not mixed waste. And why didn’t Canada do the right thing and take the garbage back long ago?

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