The containers, which had been clogging up the major Manila International Container Port in Subic Bay, are now on the 20-day journey to Vancouver.
Environmental activists from Greenpeace, the EcoWaste Coalition and other groups sailed around Subic Bay on a small boat carrying with a banner reading, “Philippines: not a garbage dumping ground”.
The event marks a triumph for tough-talking Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who had threatened to have the containers dumped in Canadian waters.
The relationship between Duterte and Justin Trudeau was already tense due to the Canadian prime minister’s vocal criticism of Duterte’s violent crackdown on drug users and street dealers.
This month, Manila recalled its ambassador to Ottawa after Canada missed a 15 May deadline to retrieve the containers.
The rubbish arrived in the Philippines in 103 containers in 2013 and 2014 and was falsely labelled as recyclable plastic. After many containers had been emptied in landfill, 69 containers remained festering at two Philippine ports.
Canadian environment minister Catherine McKenna welcomed the news of the shipment, telling the media: “We committed with the Philippines and we’re working closely with them.”
Last week McKenna said Canada had awarded a contract to return the containers in late June but Manila rejected the plan, saying a private shipping company would transport the rubbish sooner, at Philippine expense.
China had long received the bulk of the developed world’s scrap plastic but early last year it started rejecting further imports, meaning Asean has increasingly become the new destination.
The rubbish has been a source of tension between the two nations for six years when it was discovered the containers were in fact filled with electrical and household waste, including used adult nappies.
In 2016, a Philippine court ordered the rubbish to be shipped back at Canadian expense. Canada amended its regulations that year around hazardous waste shipments to prevent a repeat of the disagreement.
Philippine environmental groups urged Duterte to ban all imports of waste and ratify the Basel Ban Amendment, which bans waste shipments, including recycling. Other trash has arrived in the Philippines from South Korea last year and more recently from Australia and Hong Kong, the groups said.
The rubbish has angered Filipinos. Picture credit: YouTube