Exclusively Online | Fall 2019 Issue

“A Lighter Look”

Rick Meyer's regularly appearing column takes a lighter look at politics and public affairs around the world. This month: Dirty Laundry

By Richard E. Meyer

As a new year approaches, it’s worth celebrating bullets the world dodged in 2019. Donald Trump did not ask Martians to investigate Joe Biden. But not many people are aware that the president of a peace-loving country threatened to go to war over dirty diapers.

No, it wasn’t Trump. Without making big headlines, the dignified nation of Canada and the sovereign islands of the Philippines engaged in hostility that was extraordinary for grown-up govern­ments. At one point, the chief of state of the Philippines warned that he would initiate combat.

I’m not making this up.

In small, little-noticed reports, a handful of media, including the New York Times, offered these details: In 2013 and 2014, a Canadian company shipped 2,500 tons of trash to the Philippines. It arrived in 103 containers designated for recycling – a once-burgeoning, but now shrinking, industry in Asia.

The containers were marked as plastic scrap. But newspapers in the Philippines said they also held household rubbish, including leach­ing fluid and diapers. The diapers were full. Environmental groups in Canada accused their country of violating the Basel Con­vention, which reg­ulates exporting hazardous waste.

The Philippines tried to repatriate the garbage.

The Canadians said they would take it back, but they were talking trash. It stayed in the Philippines.

Finally, on April 23rd of this year, President Rodrigo Duterte lost his patience. He called a news conference. “Canada, I want a boat prepared,” he said. “I’ll give a warning to Canada, maybe next week, that they better pull that thing out, or I will set [it] sail. . . .”

Canada said it was working on a solution, but the garbage still did not budge.

“I will advise Canada that: ‘Your garbage is on the way,’ ” Duterte told his people, who were feeling dumped on. ” ‘Prepare a grand reception!’ ” he said to the Canadians. ” ‘ Eat it if you want to!’ ”

Duterte set a deadline: Get the trash out by May 15 or else! Duterte’s spokesman said he would have it thrown onto Canadian beaches.

The deadline came and went.

Duterte recalled the Philippine ambassador to Canada.

“Letters for the recall of our ambassador and consuls to Canada went out,” Foreign Sec­retary Teodoro Locsin tweeted. “They are expected [to be back] here [in Manila] in a day or so. . . . We shall maintain a diminished diplomatic presence in Canada until its garbage is ship-bound there.”

At one point, Duterte said, “We will declare war against them.”

The Canadians cried uncle. On May 22, they announced that they had awarded a contract to have the refuse brought home in 30 days.

Their minister of environment and climate change apologized. “Canada,” she said, “values its deep and longstanding relationship with the Philippines.”

The United States did not get involved, but only because it was too busy issuing sanctions, tariffs and threats of its own.

What will Canada do with its newly returned trash?

Gabrielle Lamontagne, a spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada, said it eventually would go to facility in Vancouver that turns waste into energy.

Do we trust that?

We can’t let our northern neighbor sneak its garbage into Alaska, or Washington, or Idaho, or Montana, or North Dakota, or Minnesota, or Michigan, or Ohio, or Pennsylvania, or New York, or Vermont, or New Hampshire, or Maine.

Should we be on the lookout for renegade trucks?

Adorned with the Canadian maple leaf?

Hauling dirty diapers?



The Last Laugh:

“After you steal the car, don’t speed away with the tires screeching. You’ll only draw attention to yourself. Instead, remove the tires and walk the car home gently.”

From The Harvard Lampoon


Richard E. Meyer

Richard E. Meyer

Meyer is the senior editor of Blueprint. He has been a White House correspondent and national news features writer for the Associated Press and a roving national correspondent and editor of long-form narratives at the Los Angeles Times.

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