For many years, Canadians have found their country shipping recyclable waste to foreign lands for processing. Why is Canada exporting trash in the first place, and why in the world are other countries accepting it?


For the environmentally-conscious, this might be a question that pops up in your head. Garbage is an ambitious traveller, and most people don’t  consider past the moment when they throw an empty soda bottle or scrap piece of paper into the blue bin. However, your trash goes farther than you’d think. Canada lacks the technology to domestically recycle many goods, meaning your waste will either end up in a landfill or on a ship bound for another country.


For years, Canada, and many other countries have exported “recyclables” to China. Usually unloaded at the port city of Hong Kong, the garbage is transported to various places where workers separate what’s reusable and what’s not. The latter is burnt to a crisp, while the former is made into new objects, many of which are then shipped back to be used anew. [2] However, due to recent concerns of cross-contamination, or the lazy sorting of items by ordinary folk, have resulted in many non-recyclable items being mixed in with usable ones. This, along with the increasing costs and questions over pollution, resulted in the Chinese suddenly slamming the door for the many countries that were over-reliant on it to deal with their garbage. This left Canada and various other nations in desperate attempts to seek alternatives. [1] This suddenly became a big deal; previously, most municipalities could brag and boast of having a blue bin program. Even if it ends up as incinerated ashes in China, that is still a foreign and faraway problem, and most Canadian politicians simply ignore it and move on.


The garbage ended up going to the Philippines, who are quite tired of dealing with our trash; recently, diplomatic relations were destroyed by a trash container with an obscured origin that eventually was traced by environmental activists to “somewhere near Toronto [2]”. This has enraged Filipino authorities. President Duterte has even threatened to “declare war” and ship back the containers himself. [2] Canada is also not the only country in this pickle; since China closed off its doors, the Philippines has been used as a dumping ground for countries ranging from South Korea to Australia. [2] The country is already having issues dealing with their own trash (it’s hard to provide services to over 7,000 islands, you know), not to mention those from other nations.


What lies in the future for Canadians and their trash? History shows over reliance on other countries for goods and services may not be the best idea. Wars have been lost, economies have slumped, and lives have been destroyed because of the lack of available domestic services. Under the ever increasing threat of the Philippines closing off our path to dealing with our recyclables,  the question now becomes: “what next”? The problem certainly seems like our fault; even as a developed country, we do not have the technology to recycle many goods,and have had to rely on others to deal with our trash. If we don’t act, and just shove this problem into the landfill, then we will merely be passing this unsanitary burden to future generations. If Canada is truly a leader of change in this world, we should start by dealing with our own trash, rather than forcing it upon others.


[1] Common, David. “‘Take back your rubbish’: Another country returning unwanted waste to Canada | CBC News.” CBCnews. 29 May 2019. CBC/Radio Canada. 30 May 2019 <>.


[2] Gurney, Matt. “The Philippines has a bigger trash problem than Canada.” 29 May 2019. 29 May 2019 <>.