IT'S a never ending garbage dumping story. It started in 1999 when 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 was hazardous and posed health risks. I remember during that time, a Japanese TV crew from NHK went to our paper recycling mill probably to show that there were legitimate recyclers and importers of recyclable materials in the Philippines.

Then, five years ago, 103 containers filled with around 2,450 tons of trash from Canada were discovered at the port area in Manila. The materials inside the containers were declared as recyclable plastic. However, the vans contained mixed garbage like plastic bottles plastic bags, newspapers, household garbage and used adult diapers. The garbage is still here in the Philippines and has already sparked a diplomatic "crisis." President Duterte has recalled the Philippine Ambassador to Canada and threatened to dump the remaining 69 containers of garbage in Canadian waters.

Just last year, 5,100 tons of garbage from South Korea arrived at the Mindanao Container Terminal in July. 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 South Korean government has committed to help ship back the trash.

And now, garbage shipments from Australia and Hong Kong have also made it to our ports. Municipal waste was discovered last week in nine (9) containers that arrived last month from Australia at the Mindanao Container Terminal, the same port where the South Korean garbage landed. Some news reports say that there are more than nine containers. The shipment was allegedly cleared by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The importer of the garbage, Cement manufacturer Holcim Philippines Inc., said the Environmental Management Bureau of the DENR had cleared the importation and the use of the material as alternative fuel. Currently, the use of waste with high heating value is allowed to be used as fuel in cement kilns as replacement for coal. DENR Administrative Order No. 2010-06 provides the guidelines for this process.

Granting that the garbage shipment was cleared by DENR, is it right to import garbage when we have a surplus of waste in our own backyard? Should we not prioritize the processing of our own waste as alternative fuel to help solve our garbage problem? The Holcim Cement plant in Bulacan used to take the plastic waste from some LGU's in Pampanga, including Mabalacat City. They have already stopped collecting.

The Hong Kong trash, meanwhile, reportedly around 25 tons of crushed electronic materials, was discovered last May 22 before it could be claimed by the importer. Note that Republic Act 6969, or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act, lists waste electronic equipment as hazardous waste and therefore cannot just be exported to the Philippines under an international treaty called the Basel Convention.

All these garbage shipments show that NIMBY (Not-In-My-Backyard) attitude has gone international. Just recently, Malaysia said it will send back some 3,000 metric tons of non-recyclable plastic waste to countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in a move to avoid becoming a dumping ground for rich nations.

Port authorities should be vigilant and not allow the Philippines to be the dumpsite of other countries. We have not even solved our own garbage problem.