Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin announced Tuesday the country would return 400 tons of garbage, most of it contaminated plastic, to its home countries, following adamant demands (and a threat of war) from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for Canada to take back its trash in Manila.
Yeo expressed particular frustration with Canada, as well, which she said had been “irresponsible” in dumping the garbage in Southeast Asia.
“We are going to send this back to Canada. We really hope the people of Canada will demand better tracking and monitoring of your waste recycling,” Yeo told Canada’s CBC News. “I hope this will make Canadians angry as well. This is the irresponsible export of plastic, of waste. It’s household garbage, it smells bad.”
Yeo granted Canadian media a tour of the shipping containers that would return to that country starting Tuesday, according to CBC. The Canadian outlet identified plastic bags from Canadian stores and “made in Canada” brandings on much of the garbage, appearing to confirm its origins.
The garbage is currently sitting in Port Klang, Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia had accepted it believing it to be recyclable plastic. Instead, Yeo said Malaysian officials found unusable, toxic household trash in the containers they received. As they are of no recyclable value, Yeo is sending them home. Yeo did not personally identify any culprits in convincing Malaysia to take the trash or any company that had a hand in the shipping deal.
The reveal of the Canadian garbage was part of a much larger press event featuring trash from Japan, China, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. Malaysia’s New Straits Times reported that the garbage totaled over 400 tons in weight; it will all return home, Yeo promised.
“We should not let ourselves become a dumping ground. That’s why we want to control it (plastic waste imports). We want to fight back,” Yeo told reporters. “They (other countries) are dumping it on us. We will fight back and send it back to them. … They have to be responsible for this as it’s really not only about the environment, but the dignity and sovereignty of the country.”
Yeo explained that part of the problem for Malaysia is an illegal demand for plastic trash. The country has shut down 150 illegal plastic recycling facilities in recent months to curb the problem, but the nature of some of the trash made this an incomplete solution, she said.
“We must seek justice in this. It’s not fair for people to dump rubbish on us, and that’s why we need to fight,” Yeo insisted.
Yeo’s complaints, particularly those against Canada, echo what Philippines President Duterte has spent much of this year denouncing. In April, Duterte threatened to go to war with Canada if they did not take back tons of trash the country had illegally shipped to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014. At the time, Manila agreed to the shipment believing it contained recyclable materials, not household trash.
“I want a boat prepared. I’ll give a warning to Canada maybe next week that they better pull that thing out or I will set sail, there in Canada, I will dump their trash there,” Duterte said in April. “I will declare war against them. I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to.”
The government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a leftist who has prioritized environmentalism in his political messaging, claimed it would find a “Canadian process” to solve the problem, and Duterte stepped down from his threat of war. The Canadians still have yet to reclaim their garbage, however.
On Monday, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said the garbage would make its final journey home May 30, as the Duterte government had completed all the bureaucratic labor to ensure its legal international passage. Locsin, like his boss, stamped the announcement with a threat.
“Anybody gets in the way one way or another, I will screw you dry,” he wrote on Twitter, where he made the official announcement. “Don’t provoke me.”
ALL CONTAINERS CONTAINING GARBAGE CLEANED AND READY TO GO. WAITING FOR A COUPLE OF DOCUMENTS AND ROUTINE PERMISSION FROM CHINA FOR TRANSSHIPMENT TO CANADA. DEPARTURE IS MAY 30. Anybody gets in the way one way or another, I will screw you dry. Don't provoke me.
— Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) May 27, 2019
Southeast Asia is facing a bombardment of international trash after the Communist Party of China announced last year that it would stop taking in recyclable plastic trash, despite its much more formidable ability to recycle it than countries like Malaysia and the Philippines. China then begun participating in trash exports to those countries.
“Plastic waste from industrialized countries is literally engulfing communities in Southeast Asia, transforming what were once clean and thriving places into toxic dumpsites,” Von Hernandez, global coordinator of the Break Free from Plastic movement, said in April, according to Radio Free Asia.
China’s plastic import ban does not explain the situation with the Canadian trash in the Philippines, shipped years before it occurred. The Canadian trash shipments, as they contain household trash the Philippines did not consent to take, violate the Basel Convention, an international law regulating garbage shipments.
Malaysia recently spearheaded an effort to amend the Basel Convention to limit plastic waste exports.