OTTAWA — Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says it is “unfortunate” that a disagreement with the Philippines about Canadian garbage became an international diplomatic incident but she hopes it’s created an opportunity for Canada to tackle its plastics-pollution problem.
“This is the reality that developing countries do not want to have any more of the plastics or trash of developed countries,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that it got raised to this level but we are committed to getting it back.”
Next month, McKenna intends to unveil a national plastics-pollution plan that is expected to put more onus on plastics producers to ensure their materials are recycled or reused.
McKenna said Thursday she was “cautiously optimistic” the saga over the garbage in the Philippines is nearly at an end, as the 69 remaining containers of Canadian household waste that ended up in the Philippines under false pretences five and six years ago were loaded onto a container ship in the port of Subic.
“I’m waiting with bated breath. These containers are all getting loaded, they’ve all been fumigated and I am cautiously optimistic but until I see the last container on the ships I will not get too excited,” she said.
The last container was put aboard the MV Bavaria shortly after 3 a.m. in the Philippines. The ship should take about four weeks to get to the Port of Vancouver. Once back in Canada the garbage will be burned at a waste-to-energy facility in Burnaby, B.C.
The returnees are the leftovers of 103 shipping containers that arrived in Manila and Subic in 2013 and 2014, falsely labelled as plastics for recycling.
An inspection revealed they were mostly filled with regular garbage, including electronic waste and dirty diapers.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin posted video and photos to his Twitter account showing the containers being loaded throughout the afternoon and into the wee hours of the morning in Subic, a major international port northwest of Manila. He also showed a Canadian Embassy official monitoring the process.
Locsin suggested there were last-minute problems getting international shipping permits in place, saying the Philippine environment minister was “up early” and “begged for foreign transshipment permits” while Canada’s ambassador John Holmes “never slept ‘til it all got done.”
McKenna also said there “were some challenges.”
Locsin’s social-media presence has peppered the ongoing dispute with colourful commentary, much in line with his boss, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who in April threatened to declare war on Canada if it didn’t finally take back its trash. Duterte also said he would ship it back himself if he had to, a threat his government reiterated when Canada missed a May 15 Philippine deadline to get the garbage on a container ship.
Ultimately, however, Locsin worked with Canada to get the necessary work done as quickly as possible, a Canadian official said, asking not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter. The containers had to be inspected, cleaned and fumigated before being loaded on the boat.