Why Does Canada’s Fresh Air Suffocate the Filipinos?-Xinhua

Why Does Canada’s Fresh Air Suffocate the Filipinos?

Source: Xinhuanet

Editor: huaxia

2023-01-09 14:22:32

By Xin Ping

“It gets suffocating in the evening. We have to close our windows despite the heat and bury our noses under our blankets when we sleep,”  complained a Philippine resident in Valenzuela, one of the notorious “plastic cities” in the Philippines.

It may seem far-fetched to associate such grief over pollution with a country so fresh and clean in many’s eyes — Canada. But the unlikely is not necessarily untrue. As the much anticipated COP27 summit was held recently targeting the illegal traffic in plastic waste, it’s time to recount a six-year-long row between Canada and the Philippines.

According to a 24/7 Tempo study in 2019, Canada produced the most waste in per capita terms (36.1 metric tons annually) in the world. Where did all the trash end up? In 2013 and 2014, over 100 shipping containers were transported from Vancouver to Manila by Chronic Plastics Inc, a Canadian company. Labeled as containing recyclable plastic, the giant boxes were found by the Philippine Bureau of Customs to be filled with “household trash, plastic bottles and bags, newspapers, and used adult diapers”. While both countries are signatories to the Basel Convention that requires the exporting country to “take back the waste materials if the receiving country refuses to accept them”, Canada had for years ignored the Philippines’ demand to repatriate the garbage.

No place is created to be hell. It’s just some people think that only themselves shall live in heaven. By November 2017, at least 26 of the containers thrown to the Philippines had been emptied, with the trash buried at a landfill in the local city of Capas. While the Canadians were breathing freely in the scents of sea air, woodlands and wild blooms, the Filipinos were plagued by foul odors of melted plastic. Toxic chemicals that sink deep into soil, water and food not only damage the environment in an irreparable way, but also cause severe public health hazards.

For years, the Canadian government had promised to bring back the waste but failed to do so until the then Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte grew tired of waiting. At a press conference in April 2019, he threatened to “declare war on Canada” and sail the containers back himself, should the Canadian government continue to take no action by May 15. On May 16, the Philippines recalled its ambassador and other diplomatic representatives to Canada after the deadline was, unsurprisingly, missed again. The row ended on May 30, 2019, when 69 containers of the remaining trash finally departed back to Vancouver, a heartening victory for the Philippine pursuit of human dignity and environmental justice.

But waste exports from Canada to developing countries is far from ended. While the Canadian government claimed that actions would be taken, the fines it imposed on the companies shipping illegal waste overseas were so negligible compared to the cost of treating it domestically, that this measure has become only a rubber stamp for the Trudeau administration to shift responsibility. According to Yale University’s 2022 Environmental Performance Index, Canada was ranked 49th, and the Philippines the 158th. Look at what No. 49 has done to No. 158.

And this story is not just a coincidence: almost all parts of the developing world are drown in waste from advanced economies. ASEAN countries are the largest importers of plastic waste from the US, Japan, Germany and the UK. Türkiye receives 67% of all ferrous metal waste exported from the EU. Mexico, El Salvador and Ecuador have become new recipients of US plastic waste. Between 2017 and 2019, the UK illegally shipped 263 containers of hospital bio-waste to Sri Lanka, including “rags, bandages and body parts from mortuaries”.

Referring to the returning of 3,300 tons of illegally exported trash back to the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, Malaysia’s former Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said, “Malaysians, like any other developing countries, have a right to clean air, clean water, sustainable resources and clean environment to live in, just like citizens of developed nations. Even though we are a small country, we cannot be bullied by developed countries.”

At the COP27 summit, the message from developing countries is strong and unanimous: the 6.7 billion people living in more than 150 countries have had enough, and they want nothing but justice, justice and justice.

Now the ball is in the court of the Global North. But will they act, for real?

(Xin Ping is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Xinhua News Agency, Global Times, CGTN and China Daily. He can be reached at xinping604@gmail.com.)