The Philippines yesterday sent back truckloads of garbage exported by Canada - a festering issue that eroded ties between Manila and Ottawa for years - even as environmental activists called for a wider, permanent ban on such imports following reports of other trash shipments from Australia and Hong Kong.
Sixty-nine containers, containing some 2,500 tonnes of household waste - including plastic bottles, bags, newspapers and used adult diapers - that was rotting away in ports in Manila for six years, were loaded late on Thursday onto a container ship.
The ship then set sail yesterday from Subic, a port two hours north of Manila, to its next port of call in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, en route to Vancouver, where it is scheduled to dock in 20 days.
Canada paid for the cost of shipping the trash, pegged at some 10 million pesos (S$264,000).
"Baaaaaaaaa bye, as we say it... The garbage is gone, good riddance," Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin wrote on Twitter, along with posted images of the vessel leaving.
The row centred on 103 containers of garbage shipped in batches from Canada to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014. The contents of 34 containers were disposed of, including in a landfill. All the containers were falsely declared by a private firm as recyclable plastic scrap, prompting Philippine officials to ask Canada to take back the remaining 69 containers.
The issue had polluted Manila-Ottawa ties for years. But it blew up when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said in April: "Let's fight Canada. I will declare war against them."
Canada pledged to take back the waste, but missed a Manila-imposed May 15 deadline. The Philippines then recalled its envoys in Ottawa. Mr Duterte's spokesman, Mr Salvador Panelo, ratcheted up the pressure by saying Manila would ship the trash back on its own "immediately", and threatened to dump the waste in Canadian waters.
ALSO RAISING A STINK
Weight of rubbish found inside a 40-foot container from Australia; it landed in Manila early last month.
Shipment of mixed plastics, misdeclared as "assorted electronic accessories", from Hong Kong that was found at a port on Mindanao island, in the southern Philippines.
Weight of garbage misdeclared as plastic flakes that the Philippines shipped back to South Korea earlier this year.
Mr Locsin yesterday declared the row with Canada over, and advised all recalled Philippine diplomats to return to Canada. "Get your flights back," he tweeted, adding that there was more to their bilateral ties than the garbage issue.
But environmental activists called on the government to do more.
Early last month, over 200 tonnes of rubbish inside a 40-foot container from Australia landed in Manila. Meanwhile, another shipment of 26 tonnes of mixed plastics - misdeclared as "assorted electronic accessories" - from Hong Kong was found at a port on Mindanao island, in the southern Philippines. Earlier this year, the Philippines shipped back to South Korea 6,500 tonnes of garbage misdeclared as plastic flakes.
"Why do we need to repeatedly remind the world that we are not a garbage dump? Illegal waste dumping in developing countries should be stopped at all cost," said Ms Abigail Aguilar, campaigner for Greenpeace South-east Asia.
Mr Locsin said a ban on waste imports will be in place, as long as Mr Duterte sits as president.
For years, China had received the bulk of scrap plastic from around the world, but closed its doors to foreign refuse last year in an effort to clean up its environment. Huge quantities of waste plastic have since been redirected to South-east Asia, including Malaysia, Indonesia and, to a lesser degree, the Philippines.
Global concern over plastic pollution has been spurred by shocking images of waste-clogged rivers in South-east Asia and accounts of dead sea creatures found with kilos of refuse in their stomachs.