IS THERE an end in sight to the controversial garbage imported from Canada? It will be recalled that four years ago, around 100 container vans containing garbage from Canada were discovered at the port area in Manila. The materials inside the containers were declared as recyclable plastic. Importation of recyclable waste is legal as long as it does not contain hazardous materials. In fact scrap materials are considered commodities and traded internationally.

However since the container vans contain mixed garbage like plastic bottles, plastic bags, newspapers, household garbage, and used adult diapers, they were classified as hazardous. Under an international agreement called “ the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal” of which the Philippines and Canada are signatories, it is prohibited to transfer hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries.

When the Philippine government requested the Canadian embassy in the Philippines to assist in returning the container vans to Canada, they said that the Canadian government "has no domestic or international authority to compel the shipper to return the shipment to Canada." It was a commercial transaction, not a government to government deal.

In June 2015, some of the container vans were sent to the Kalangitan Sanitary landfill in Capas, Tarlac for disposal. At least 26 container vans were emptied before the disposal was stopped by the Provincial government of Tarlac due to complaints from residents of Bamban and Capas towns. Since then, the legal battle and diplomatic moves continued while the remaining garbage-filled containers sit in the port.

In the recently concluded ASEAN summit, there was a glimpse of hope to finally end the garbage fiasco. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he reassured President Rodrigo Duterte that his government is trying to figure out how to get rid of thousands of tons of Canadian trash that are now rotting in the port of Manila.

The Canadian Prime Minister said that Canada has already removed a legal hurdle that had prevented the waste from being returned. The trash could be sent back to Canada, but who will pay for it remains a question. (How about asking the importer to pay for the cost of shipping the containers back to Canada?)

The Canadian garbage incident is not the first in the Philippines. In 1999, one hundred twenty two (122) containers of hazardous hospital and household waste were shipped to the Philippines from Japan. The Japanese government took back the waste after it was confirmed that the waste was hazardous and poses health risks.

The Philippines is not a dumping ground for other countries’ garbage. We are, however, still a place for hand-me-downs. Just look at the numerous shops selling second hand appliances and furniture from Korea and Japan. We unwittingly carry the burden of disposing the e-waste of other countries. Can the government regulate this?