Sixty-nine containers of garbage, shipped to the Philippines but mislabelled and rejected by that country's facilities, will return to Canada to be burned in Metro Vancouver's waste-to-energy incinerator in Burnaby.
Metro Vancouver, in a Friday statement, said burning the trash was the most environmentally sustainable option. It added the garbage is mostly mixed plastic and paper with "low levels" of contaminants like electronics and household waste.
Metro Vancouver says the Burnaby facility was chosen by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) because of its proximity to the Port of Vancouver and because it is certified to accept waste under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s International Waste Directive.
"For decades, Metro Vancouver's Waste-to-Energy Facility has responsibly processed waste material from the international airline and shipping industries, as well as other materials designated for secure disposal by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency," said Metro Vancouver board chair Sav Dhaliwal.
In the years since, the trash has sat in 69 containers in the island country where it has become a growing sore point with Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who threatened to “declare war” and dump it in Canadian waters if Canada didn’t ship it back.
"We have the technology and capacity to safely and efficiently handle this type of material."
Burning garbage produces electricity for Metro Vancouver. The regional district said the waste-to-energy facility produces enough power to supply the equivalent of 16,000 homes in the region.
Burning the 1,500 tonnes of trash, it continued, would be the equivalent of two days of work for the incinerator.
Metro Vancouver will charge the federal government, which is co-ordinating the return of the trash, its standard special waste handling fee of $250 per tonne.
A spokesperson for the regional district said the garbage will be inspected for hazardous waste before being burned, once at the Port of Vancouver on arrival and again by Metro Vancouver staff and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency at the incinerator.
Waste-to-Energy is the best option for secure disposal because there is no potential for contact with wildlife, and no potential for waste to leave the facility following disposal.
Any hazardous or "otherwise unacceptable" materials found will not be burned. It will be up to the federal government to arrange for disposal of those materials, the spokesperson said.
Jack Froese, chair of Metro Vancouver's Zero Waste Committee, said taking this much garbage from overseas is unusual.
"This is kind of unique," Froese said. "Hopefully we don't see this again."
It will be burned over 10 to 14 days, after hours, at the incinerator. Because it has left Canadian shores, he explained, it needs to be burned separately from local trash.
"It'd be nice to have it come back and be able to recycle it, but because of that contamination and because it's come from offshore, the CFIA doesn't want to take that risk," he said. "The risk, I believe, is very low."
Froese said it didn't make sense to ship the waste any further across Canada than necessary which is why Metro Vancouver accepted the federal government's request to burn the trash.
Before ending in a literal garbage fire in Burnaby, the trash has smouldered as a diplomatic dispute between Canada and the Philippines.
It was originally sent to the Philippines for recycling in 2013 and 2014, but rejected over contamination. In that country, it has served as a major irritant for years.
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In recent weeks, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has lashed out against Canada with tough rhetoric. His country's ambassador to Canada has been recalled over the issue.
The Philippines has rejected that timeline, however, and is moving forward with plans to ship it back to Canada itself.
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A local mass-burn facility that turns waste into electricity will be disposing roughly 1,500 tonnes of repatriated Canadian garbage shipped from the Philippines.
On Friday, Metro Vancouver announced its Waste-to-Energy Facility in Burnaby has been selected by the federal government to dispose of the waste because of its closeness to the Port of Vancouver and its ability to receive waste under the Canadian Food Inspection Agencys International Waste Directive.
"For decades, Metro Vancouvers Waste-to-Energy Facility has responsibly processed waste material from the international airline and shipping industries, as well as other materials designated for secure disposal by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency," said Sav Dhaliwal, board chair of Metro Vancouver. "We have the technology and capacity to safely and efficiently handle this type of material."
The announcement comes days after the Philippines president threatened to dump the containers of trash into Canadian waters after Ottawa missed a deadline to deal with the nearly six-year-old dispute.
"We will not allow ourselves to be a dumping ground of trash," said presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo in Manila Thursday.
Earlier this week, Ottawa signed a $1.14-million contract with the Canadian arm of French shipping giant Bollare Logistics to prepare and ship 69 containers of Canadian waste that have been sitting in ports in the Philippines for the past several years.
The garbage was initially shipped from the Port of Vancouver to the Philippines by a private company, Chronic Inc., for recycling in 2013 and 2014.
Philippine authorities were alarmed the amount of material was more than it could process, and ordered an inspection, finding the containers had been falsely labelled as plastics for recycling.
Metro Vancouver said characterization studies conducted in 2014 and 2015 found the waste consisted mostly of paper and mixed plastics with "low levels of contaminants," such as electronics and household waste.
Chronic Inc. has since gone out of business and its not believed to have violated any Canadian laws when it shipped the waste, making it difficult for Ottawa to recover costs.
"Canada is taking all necessary measures for the prompt, safe, and environmentally sound disposal of the waste that was left in the Philippines by a Canadian company," said Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna. "We are working with Metro Vancouver to swiftly and safely dispose of the waste upon arrival."
The estimated 1,500 tonnes of waste is expected to take about two days worth of processing at the Burnaby facility.
A Metro Vancouver bylaw rate for the special handling of the waste is $250 per tonne. All costs related to the shipping and disposable will be absorbed by the federal government.