Filipino environmental activists have expressed disgust over an attempt to smuggle into the Philippines some 50 container vans of toxic garbage mislabeled as recyclable plastics from Canada.
“We are not your garbage dump,” said Romy Hidalgo, an official of EcoWaste Coalition, and the NGO (nongovernmental organization) representative to the National Solid Waste Management Commission in the Philippines.
“We condemn in strongest possible terms this unabashed attempt to dump hazardous waste misrepresented as recyclable plastic into our country,” he said in a statement.
Last week, the Bureau of Customs intercepted a shipment of 50 container vans of garbage from Canada at the Port of Manila reported the Inquirer.
In a television report, deputy customs commissioner Ariel Nepomuceno was quoted as saying it was the shipper’s responsibility to take the trash back to Canada.
“This botched illegal importation violates our Constitution and our major environmental laws, including Republic Act 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, which prohibits the importation of toxic waste disguised as ‘recyclable’ or ‘with recyclable content’,” Hidalgo said.
He said it also undermined efforts of local government units and Congress to reduce plastic waste.
But the Canadian businessman at the centre of the furor has denied the allegations.
“Their story of this garbage thing is just driving me nuts,” said Jim Makris, owner of Chronic Inc., a business that sends mixed plastics across the Pacific to be sorted in the Philippines and sold for recycling.
“Anybody who’s in plastic, who knows plastic, will tell you. It’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard of in my entire life,” Makris told Whitby This Week.
Makris, who began his Philippines recycling venture nearly a year ago, said the containers were part of his second shipment there. He said the contents, purchased from a recycling firm in Vancouver, were “95 per cent plastic” but contained some paper and aluminum as found in a standard household recycling bin.
His first 30-container delivery made it by customs without a problem, he said. Makris said he suspects someone along the chain of delivery wanted to be paid off before his second shipment is allowed through. But he’s not sure.
“This is beyond even understanding what’s going on,” he said. “I think everything was just misunderstood really badly.”
A Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada spokesperson said the government hasn’t been advised of the situation, but will monitor developments through Canadian officials in the Philippines.
Under the Basel Convention, to which Canada and the Philippines are signatories, it is illegal to ship hazardous waste internationally, except in special circumstances.
Makris insisted that it wouldn’t be possible for such waste to get into his shipments, which are also inspected before they leave Canada, he said.
He added that “anyone with a brain” could see that it makes no sense to ship garbage overseas. It costs $40 per tonne to dump garbage in Canada, but $80 per tonne to ship his material to the Philippines.
Making matters worse Makris claimed he hasn’t “seen a dime” of his profits from the first shipment.
In the Philippines at present, more than 90 Local Government Uutss around the country have passed ordinances banning plastic bags, while a bill proposing a nationwide ban is currently being drafted in the legislative department.
Waste audits conducted by environmental groups over the years show that about 75 percent of detritus found in Manila Bay is composed of plastic waste, 25 percent of which consists of plastic bags, according to EcoWaste.
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternative’s Shalimar Vitan lamented that “countries like Canada may be beginning to think that the Philippines is the mythical ‘away’ of their ‘throw-away’ culture. No community, let alone a country, deserves to be unjustly treated as a dumping ground. No community is disposable.”
“Our national government should sustain vigilance to ensure this does not happen again,” she added.
Canadian activists also expressed dismay over the illegal importation.
Buddy Boyd of Zero Waste Canada said: “We are deeply embarrassed at how government policies here have caused such bad behavior by some towards the environment and the good people of the Philippines. This is a disgrace.”
The zero waste advocates demanded that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources notify its counterpart Environment Canada about the violation and to press appropriate charges against the Canadian shipper and Philippine consignee.
“We will closely monitor how our government will respond to this incident,” Hidalgo said.