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Environment group presses South Korea to take back trash

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By Chito Chavez

EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental protection advocacy group, held a peaceful rally in front of the South Korean embassy demanding to ship back to its country the 5,100 tons of garbage currently at the Mindanao International Container Terminal (MICT) in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental and a warehouse in Cagayan de Oro City.

Dubbed as the “Korea: Basura Out of the Philippines (K-BOP)’’ action, EcoWaste Coalition expressed disgust as the 5,100 metric tons of waste material contained used dextrose tubes, diapers, batteries, bulbs and electronic equipment, impounded at the MICT that were misdeclared as “plastic synthetic flakes” as reported by the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

The BOC report also noted that hundreds of giant bales of garbage were also discovered at a Cagayan de Oro warehouse.

The protesters blew whistles to draw attention as they brandished a big garbage-filled box marked “Back to Seoul’’and a banner with the words “please take your garbage back” complete with Korean translation.

“As the first ASEAN country to establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Korea in 1949, as an active supporter of the peace and reconciliation efforts in the Korean peninsula, as a major trading partner, and as the nation of some 66,000 Filipinos working or living in South Korea, we strongly believe that the Philippines, a sovereign country, deserves not to be treated as a garbage dump,” said Eileen Sison, president of EcoWaste Coalition.

“In fact, we believe no country or community should be debased as a dumping ground for garbage,’’ she added.

Aileen Lucero, Ecowaste Coalition national coordinator, said the group is concerned that “plastics that are difficult or are costly to recycle in South Korea are being dumped in low- and middle-income countries like the Philippines in the guise of ‘recycling.”

With China shutting its doors to foreign waste imports effective January this year “to protect China’s environmental interests and people’s health,” the EcoWaste Coalition feared that plastic wastes from developed economies like South Korea are getting diverted to other low- and middle-income countries that are already burdened by mounting waste problems.

“The Philippines has a serious plastic waste problem that is already spilling into the world’s oceans, and the export of plastic scraps and misdeclared waste materials from Korea is only exacerbating our plastic dilemma,” Lucero said.

The group pointed out that this is not the first incident of garbage from South Korea being dumped in the Philippines.

In February 2017, some 5,000 metric tons of mixed wastes, misdeclared as “solid granular particles of wood chips and synthetic resin,” arrived at the Port of Cebu and were subsequently shipped back to South Korea by the BOC and the Cebu Ports Authority.

The group submitted a letter to South Korean Ambassador Han Dong-man urging his government to act decisively to ensure the speedy return of the trash from his country. They called on the South Korean government to strengthen regulatory controls to prevent the export of its garbage to developing countries in the name of “recycling.”

“Any trade in plastic waste should be subjected to strict controls based on the numerous negative experiences of Southeast Asian countries, and responsibility must be shouldered by manufacturers, following producer responsibility and close to the source as possible,” the group said.

The group further urged the South Korean government to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment, which prohibits the export of hazardous waste from developed to developing countries even for recycling purposes.

They also requested Ambassador Dong-man, who heads the South Korean foreign mission in the Philippines, to raise the matter to the immediate attention of South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Environment Minister Cho Myung-rae.

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