Toxic Trade News / 30 October 2006
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Environmentalists' fears of Japan-RP treaty not unfounded
by Alecks Pabico, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (Philippines)
30 October 2006 – If the surreptitiously negotiated and hurriedly signed Japan-Philippine Economic Trade Agreement (JPEPA) is making environmentalists jittery over the issue of toxic and hazardous waste trade, it’s because of one word: precedent.

No matter how the government tries to allay fears by saying that the laws regarding the ban on the entry and disposal of toxic and hazardous waste in the country will be strictly enforced despite their inclusion in the trade pact, and given preferential zero-percent tariff rates no less, the fact is that this is not our first encounter with Japanese waste.

Seven years ago, Japanese trash found its way to Philippine shores neatly packaged in 122 (124 in some reports) 40-foot container vans which arrived at the Port of Manila in July 1999. The consignee, Sinsei Enterprises, declared the shipment as carrying waste paper for recycling. But upon visual inspection, port authorities discovered that the vans contained hazardous, toxic and infectious clinical wastes, which included:

  • needles for intravenous injections
  • medical rubber hose and tubes
  • used adult and baby diapers
  • used sanitary napkins
  • discarded intravenous syringes used in blood letting and dextrose
  • garments
  • bandages, and other hospital wastes

There were also electronic equipment, PVC plastic materials mixed with industrial and household wastes, styropor packaging materials, sacks, plastic sheets, PVC pipes, plastic packaging materials, paper, and plastic food packaging materials.

Environmentalists warned then that it was not the first time that toxic waste from Japan had been brought to the Philippines in the guise of “recycling.”

Von Hernandez, then Greenpeace toxics campaigner for Southeast Asia, said that Japan and other industrialized countries were reported to have legally exported lead acid batteries in 1994 for recycling by battery firms, despite the threat poised to the environment and human health by such activity.

Hernandez also pointed to shipbreaking as another form of recycling involving hazardous waste where old Japanese ships containing hazardous materials were imported and recycled in Cebu province.

Under strong pressure from environmentalists and European countries like Denmark, the Basel Convention adopted and ratified a major amendment in 1995 called the Basel Ban to prohibit wealthy member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) from exporting hazardous wastes to non-OECD states. The Basel Ban Amendment applies to all exports, including those meant for recycling.

A signatory to the convention, the Philippines has yet to ratify the Basel Ban, which is a vote shy of the required 62 nations for it to enter into force. It is, however, considered morally binding to the Basel Convention signatories.

In the aftermath of the 1999 Japan toxic waste fiasco, the Utsunomiya District Court sentenced in March 2002 Katsuhiro Mizuguchi, a Japanese trader, to three years in prison together with a Japanese waste-disposal company, Nisso Ltd. in Oyama, Tochigi Prefecture.

Presiding Judge Kenichi Hiruma ruled that Mizuguchi, 64, head of a Philippine-based trading house, conspired with Nisso President Hiromi Ito, 52, to export 2,160 tons of waste — falsely claimed as “recyclable” materials — containing such materials as disposable plastic syringes, diapers and sanitary napkins to the Philippines from a Tokyo port in July and October 1999 without obtaining permission from the Japanese government. This was in violation of the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Control Law.

Hiruma rejected Mizuguchi’s defense that he only helped Nisso go through export procedures the ruling, as the court found him to have played a role in the scheme by ensuring that garbage containing mostly waste paper was placed near the doors of containers to pass the waste off as recyclable paper.

The Japanese government eventually shipped back the waste from the Philippines to Japan, embarrassed by being exposed as a nation that would dump harmful waste on a poorer neighbor. At the time the ruling was issued, Ito was still standing trial on charges of illegal waste export.

Within Japan, illegal waste dumping, according to Greenpeace Japan, already involves around 400,000 tons of trash per year. Illegal trash disposal — including illegal waste exports — can only increase, it said, in light also of the Health and Welfare Ministry’s admission back in 2000 that disposal sites were about to be filled up within the next two years.

A 2000 report of the Inter Press Service estimated Japan’s yearly industrial waste to be about 400 million tons. Only 150 million got recycled while the remaining 250 million tons were either buried or incinerated. Japan’s annual household waste was placed at around 50 million tons.

Judging from the provisions of the JPEPA, environmentalists say this is probably not going to be the country’s last encounter with Japanese waste. The Philippine government, they claim, already seems to have forgotten the lessons of the 1999 Japanese toxic waste fiasco.

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