Canada and the Philippines: On the Brink of a Trash War?

The phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” doesn’t seem to be rubbing off well on the Philippines, as President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday pressured Canada to take back tonnes of garbage that was dumped in the Port of Manilla between 2013 and 2014. President Duterte in a briefing went as far as threatening war if Canada did not start taking back the garbage. The issue is just another point of contention between President Duterte and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as the two leaders have previously been at odds over Canada’s allegations of human rights abuses in the Philippines.

The current garbage issue began when Ontario-based Chronic Inc. dumped over 100 shipping containers of garbage disguised as plastics beginning in 2013 and extending into 2014. This act, according to a lawyer with the Pacific Centre for Environment Law and Litigation, violates multiple parts of the Basel Convention, a multilateral convention designed to protect human health and the environment in the developing world against the effects of hazardous waste. Prime Minister Trudeau acknowledged the issue at the 2017 Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit hosted by Manilla, saying “Canada is very much engaged in finding a solution on that [moving the garbage].” Since that speech, Canada and the Philippines set up a working group to solve the issue, but no garbage has yet been sent back to Canada.

South Korea was also caught in a similar situation, as 6,300 tons of garbage was sent to the Philippines in mislabelled containers by a private South Korean company last July. South Korea, however, saw nearly a fifth of that garbage returned earlier this year. The South Korean government on April 22 announced it would incinerate the garbage returned at a cost of C$1.1 million. This is on top of the cost the government paid to import the waste back to the country. While the Canadian government hasn’t commented on the threats made by President Duterte, a spokeswoman for Canada’s Ministry of Environment mentioned Canada is still “strongly committed to collaborating with the Philippines . . . and is aware of the court decision . . . to ship the material back to Canada.”