Vancouver facility prepares for arrival of years-old trash from Philippines
While Canadians begin celebrating the country’s 152nd birthday this weekend, workers in Vancouver will be burning piles of years-old garbage.
On Saturday morning, the Anna Maersk container ship will dock at the Port of Vancouver’s Deltaport terminal and unload 69 containers of trash after a weeks-long journey from the Philippines.
It’s not a gift, exactly: the containers are part of a larger load of over a hundred that was originally sent to the country from Canada in 2013 and 2014, falsely labeled as containing recyclable plastics.
WATCH: (Aired May 30) Canadian garbage coming back from Philippines to B.C.
There it sat for years, festering on the docks in Manilla as tensions rose between the two nations.
Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte eventually threatened to “declare war” on Canada over the trash, promising to dump it in Canadian waters if it wasn’t dealt with. Diplomats were recalled last month, including the Philippine ambassador to Canada.
Finally, Metro Vancouver stepped up to quash the diplomatic row, offering to dispose of the garbage at its waste-to-energy facility in Burnaby.
Canada, meanwhile, secured a shipping contract to retrieve and bring back the load.
Most of the contents in those containers are actually recyclable in B.C., where many companies would gladly take products to process on their own.
But because of how long it’s been sitting and travelling, officials say it will all be incinerated over fears of contamination. That incineration, in turn, will help power Metro Vancouver’s electric grid.
A broader issue
The long saga of the trash speaks to the broader problem Canada has had dealing with its recyclable waste.
Since China banned the import of international recycling in 2018, the industry has been struggling to figure out how to sell its products and still get them processed.
Other countries that have accepted materials in the past, including the Philippines and Malaysia, have become less keen, becoming more strict towards issues like contamination.
In 2018, more and more products were shipped south of the border to the U.S. instead of overseas.
Laura Yates, a plastic campaigner for Greenpeace, said Canada should put a stop to recycling exports once and for all and start dealing with its waste on its own.
That includes stopping the production of more harmful products, including plastics, that are harder to recycle.
“As someone who has worked diligently to cut plastics out of her life, I know how hard it is,” Yates said. “But I think the problem isn’t that consumers are unwilling to let go, but there’s a lack of choice available.”
WATCH: (Aired May 30) ‘Dirty little secret’: Canada’s recycling problem revealed in trash dispute
The federal government has indicated it is seeking a ban on single-use plastics by 2021, which could include everything from shopping bags to utensils and food containers.
Yates said more actions need to be taken within the next five years to match B.C.’s 70 per cent recycling rate, which is the highest in the country.
But she added that rate relies largely on waste-to-energy facilities like the one in Burnaby that will soon be burning all that Filipino trash.
READ MORE: Is Canada’s recycling industry broken?
“It’s ultimately not an answer,” she said. “Creating systems that rely on the constant input of waste is not something we want to be supporting when we should first be looking at reducing waste.”
Until those systems disappear, they could be the only ones left to prevent future diplomatic skirmishes over garbage.
— With files from Aaron McArthur and the Canadian Press
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