IN 1999, at least 122 containers of hospital and household waste were shipped to the Philippines from Japan. The Japanese government took back the waste after it was confirmed that it is hazardous and poses health risks.

Then, four years ago, around 100 container vans loaded with garbage from Canada were discovered at the port area in Manila. The materials inside the containers were declared as recyclable plastic. However the container vans contain mixed garbage like plastic bottles, plastic bags, newspapers, household garbage, and used adult diapers. The garbage is still rotting here in the Philippines and has not been returned.

And now, around 5,100 tons of garbage from South Korea arrived at the Mindanao Container Terminal last July 21. The shipment was declared as “plastic synthetic flakes.” However, initial findings showed that the shipment contained used dextrose tubes, used diapers, batteries, bulbs, and electronic equipment.

The Environmental Management Bureau said the shipment was not covered by any Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)-issued importation clearance. The environment agency said that the consignee, Verde Soko Phil. Industrial Corp, is not even registered as an importer of recyclable materials. It is a South Korean company which operates a 4.5 hectare waste recycling facility within the Phividec Industrial Estate in Misamis Oriental. The DENR has promised to take swift action to deal with this issue.

Is it possible that the practice of shipping garbage to the Philippines has been going on for many years? And that these three incidents were the only ones caught? If so, the only logical explanation for this is that there’s money in it. It means that the disposal cost in the Philippines is cheaper compared to the exporting country even if the freight and other incidental expenses are factored in. Any recyclable material that can be sorted out from the garbage and sold is additional income.

But come to think of it. The Philippines has indeed been a dumping ground of discards for years. Before, there were importations of used, right-hand drive trucks and cars. Now, there are used appliances and computers mostly from Japan and South Korea. When I was in Japan for a waste management study tour few years ago, our host admitted that they indeed export secondhand electronic and electrical equipment to the Philippines.

Note that under Republic Act (RA) 6969, or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act, waste electronic equipment are classified as hazardous waste and therefore cannot just be exported to the Philippines under an international treaty called the Basel Convention.

And it’s not just appliances. We now have imported used furniture like beds, dinner sets, cabinets and other hardware. There’s also, “ukay-ukay,” or used clothes, bags and shoes. A law passed in 1966, RA 4653, prohibits the importation of used clothing and rags for health reasons and to maintain the dignity of the nation. So why are “ukay-ukay” stores allowed to operate?