President's Letter

Timothy P. Villegas, M.D.

Timothy P. Villegas, M.D. | President's Letter

Garbage Fight
While the U.S. has long dominated its neighbor to the north in many categories of economic and industrial indicators, Canadians have Americans beat in at least one measure: garbage. That?s right, this relatively small population of 37 million manages to generate over 1.3 metric tons of waste annually, working out to about 36 metric tons per capita. In fact, this is the highest per capita rate in the world! (the U.S. ranks third at 26 metric tons per capita annually). Of note, this is primarily from industrial activities such as oil refining, chemical manufacturing and metal processing, not just from run of the mill household trash.

Recently, a hot topic in the news was the dispute over shipments of garbage from Canada to the Philippines. Canada had contracted with a private firm to send supposedly recyclable plastics to the small country in the south Pacific. In 2013 and 2014, 103 shipping containers supposedly holding recyclable plastic were transported from Vancouver to Manila for processing. However, when the containers were inspected by customs, they instead reportedly contained a substantial amount of other garbage, most of it non-recyclable. At this point the garbage went into a languishing limbo as the international legal battles ensued. In 2016 an international court finally ruled, citing a violation of the Basel Convention Treaty (ratified in 1992 to try to prevent developed nations from forcing their trash on undeveloped ones) and that Canada would have to take its garbage back. However, by 2017 only 26 of the containers had been processed and buried and Canada still delayed actions. This gradually grew to a significant political hot topic in the Philippines, and, amusingly, the president of the Philippines at one point even threatened to declare war on Canada over this issue, and recalled its Canadian ambassador. Finally, on May 30, 2019 the 69 remaining containers embarked from Manila back to Vancouver.

In the end, the city of Vancouver will end up processing this garbage. All I know is that after 6 years sitting in a shipping container in the near-equatorial heat, I wouldn?t want to be the guy tasked with opening up those containers!