In Shipping Tons of Waste to the Philippines, Canada Reaps What it Sows as Solutions Wait on the Sidelines

Simcoe.com photo

Awakening News Staff Analysis/Commentary

As some may have heard, the government of the Philippines recently shipped tons of what’s been described as rotting baby diapers and various other non-recyclable waste items back to where such trash came from—Canada.

The trash was 5-6 years old. And according to several accounts, it was deceptively labeled “recyclable.”

“The Philippines, one of two Southeast Asian countries that protested being treated like dumpsites by wealthier nations, on Friday [May 31, 2019] shipped 69 containers of what its officials called illegally transported garbage back to Canada,” the U.S.-based Christian Science Monitor online reported that day.

“Administrator Wilma Eisma [of the Philippines] said tons of garbage were loaded overnight on the container ship M/V Bavaria, which left on a 20-day journey to the Canadian port city of Vancouver and ended a ‘sordid chapter in our history,’” the CSM added.

Notably, environmental activists from the Greenpeace-EcoWaste Coalition sailed aboard a small outrigger to protest Canada’s action, displaying a streamer reading, “Philippines: not a garbage dumping ground!”

Meanwhile, Filipinos openly protested on the streets, with some wearing box-like costumes that resembled waste containers filled with real trash and labeled “CA,” referring to Canada.

Filipino officials were quoted as saying that the initial trash shipment to the Philippines arrived in 103 containers in 2013-2014 and was falsely declared to be recyclable plastic scraps.

Not long after arrival, 34 containers worth of the trash were disposed of, leaving 69 containers packed with electrical and household waste, including used diapers, festering away in two Philippine ports.

As for Canadian media, the CBC back on May 2nd quoted federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna as saying: “This is a file we’ve certainly been working hard on for a long time—obviously an irritant in our relationship with the Philippines, but also a problem. We’ve had a team that’s been working extremely hard, including from Environment and Climate Change Canada, to find a solution. I am not going to go into the details but there is a proposal on the table with the Philippines and we are hopeful we can come to a resolution.”

This debacle causes one to wonder how long Canada’s recycling fraud, as exposed by the Philippines, has festered.

Starting with Parliament Hill, the seat of Canada’s federal government in Ottawa, it appears that no one involved in the nation’s diminishing democratic process (including the conventional media) has been following the lead of Awakening News to question why there is not better waste management right on the grounds where Parliament is located.

After all, doesn’t good stewardship start at home?

While Awakening News has not covered this issue heavily, one of our editors, in a fairly recent visit to Parliament Hill, noticed that the trash bins on Parliament’s grounds often are overflowing with unsightly waste. And there are no recycling bins stationed in the area, as best as can be determined.

Mainstream media outlets whose journalists cover regular business at Parliament walk right past the garbage-bin problem on a daily basis, as do citizens, several of whom are concerned about environmental issues.

TEN-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF SIMCOE COUNTY’S LANDFILL DEFEAT

A Canadian Press headline Sept. 22, 2009 read: “Simcoe County permanently gives up on Site 41 dump,” highlighting an article about Midhurst, Ontario where “a long and hard-fought community battle to stop a landfill being built atop a groundwater source culminated . . . with all development at the site being permanently discontinued,” as the 10-year-old story said.

The Site 41 site was about 40 kilometres northwest of Barrie. And, clearly, the long battle against the landfill centered around concerns over Site 41 adversely affecting groundwater.

It was also reported at the time that the county had only seven years left of landfill space, “so an outside consulting firm [was] brought in to form a waste management plan,” the Canadian Press added at the time, while quoting local official Peggy Breckenridge as saying, “I think landfills themselves are now regarded as an archaic form of dealing with our waste.”

CANADA, EXAMINE THYSELF

Consulting firms that devise often costly waste-management plans are all good and well. They may help some of the time. But doesn’t the problem, and therefore the solutions, run much deeper than that? It appears so.

We at Awakening News suggest creating a local-provincial-federal initiative that could, and likely should, revisit a number of “archaic” ideas—such as instituting a mandatory bottle-return bill like the one operated in Michigan, starting with Ontario and Quebec, the two most populous provinces.

For starters, Ontario’s existing recycling/reusing rebate on beer containers—both bottles and cans—needs to be expanded to include all soft drink containers by applying the 5-cent or 10-cent rebate per container that Michigan applies

In Michigan, you pay the deposit upfront when you purchase the beer, soda pop and other qualifying beverages. So, if you buy a six pack of plastic-bottled or glass-bottled soda (and beer), or you purchase canned beverages of the same sort, you typically pay 10 cents extra for each container (60 cents for a six pack, of course). But you get that 60 cents back when you return the empty containers to the recycling collection departments at grocery stores and other participating retailers.

Bottom line: Canada is a huge country with amazing groundwater and surface-water resources. And bureaucratic red tape, strict environmental laws and an understandable opposition by most people toward having a smelly dump too close to their home combine to hamper waste disposal. Yet,  adopting a more comprehensive bottle-return bill like Michigan’s would be just a first step toward the real solution—which is to drastically reduce the amount of waste being generated in the first place.

And the plastic water bottles filled in almost infinite amounts by the Nestle plants in Guelph, Ontario and Evart, Michigan ARE NO EXCEPTION.

In fact, because lightweight plastic water bottles constitute a major share of throw-away waste throughout the world, it’s imperative that the local-provincial-federal task force we’re suggesting here REQUIRE A NEW APPROACH TO BOTTLING WATER involving the introduction of the kind of plastic bottles (or even glass ones) that can be returned for a rebate just like beer and soft-drink containers.

From there, various other kinds of waste materials could be reviewed in terms of their biodegradable properties, etc.—covering everything from baby diapers to microwave-food packaging, etc.—in order to devise the best materials for a host of products in terms of their recyclable properties, toxicity and so on.

And this proposed task force—whose work could make the situation with the Philippines a permanent thing of the past—also needs to examine situations where it’s believed that recyclable waste often ends up being dumped in regular landfills anyway, alongside the same kind of garbage that Canada shipped to the Philippines.

That means there’s deception on both ends. First in Canada, where recyclable materials are collected with the impression given to the public that the materials will actually be recycled; and then across the world, involving waste exported to the Philippines that was assumed to consist of recyclable plastics but turned out to be nothing of the sort.

Meanwhile, as Awakening News reported last year, the existing, operational dump along Lake Simcoe near Orillia is above the aquifer that extends underground from the lake’s shoreline. That dump reportedly has up to 29 more years in its lifespan.

Awakening News, historically, comes at this subject from a position of knowledge. Associate Editor John Devine, along the very same Lake Simcoe in the early 1990s, saw his Fisherman’s Cove business torn asunder by government-ordered bulldozers that destroyed this retail outlet’s groundwater-recycling research (technology that enabled the construction of a fish hatchery in nearby Coldwater). Getting rid of the old water-in, water-out system and replacing it with this technology enabled groundwater usage to be cut by about 90 percent (compared to those flow-thru, non-recycling hatcheries). But because it was decreed that the roadway alongside Fisherman’s Cove “had to” be widened for Casino Rama,  too much land was expropriated to continue the business, so it was dissolved.

All things considered, Canadian citizens need to lead so their leaders will follow. Responsible recycling plans such as the bottle-and-can return plan outlined above, WITH THE INCLUSION OF WATER BOTTLES, can be implemented. Nestle “strip mining” Guelph’s groundwater for less than $4 per million liters simply will have to be re-examined with an eye toward increasing the extraction price.

Those companies that want Canada’s natural resources for such a massive profit margin—the margin on a typical bottle of water is at least 3,000% but probably much more—would do well to get involved in the bottle-return rebate. It’s good public relations and good public policy and the profits are there to offset all attendant costs.

If the Philippines debacle has taught us anything, it’s that the PRODUCTION of waste needs to be hugely cut, instead of looking for the next landfill site or shipping more Canadian waste overseas or next door to Michigan, as has been done.

In other words, Canada, examine thyself.