VANCOUVER—Having driven trucks from Vancouver’s ports for a dozen years, Sunday was just a regular day of work for Tarsem Ghuman. But it was the end of a long journey for one of 69 now infamous shipping containers full of festering Canadian trash, which he transported to a Burnaby waste-to-energy facility that morning.
Ghuman smiled at the thought that many Canadians — and others around the world — have become preoccupied with the 45-foot containers he’s been tasked to transport, which were sent to the Philippines six years ago labled as recycling, only to be rejected because they contained dirty diapers and other contaminants.
With the shipment back in Canada on time for the country’s 152nd birthday, the contents of the first container have been transferred to the facility where they will undergo mass burning and contribute to energy production for the area.
On Sunday afternoon, under a blazing sun, white smoke barely distinguishable from cloud billowed out of the facility’s long red stack — an underwhelming symbol marking the end of the saga for at least some of Canada’s controversial trash.
The container Ghuman dropped off Sunday was one of 103 sent to the Philippines six years ago as recycling waste. When the country discovered the containers included more than recycling, it agreed to dispose of 34 containers and demanded Canada take back the remaining 69.
That didn’t happen until this year, after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened “war” with Canada, then threatened to dump the trash in Canadian waters.
Canada paid for the trash to be returned at a cost of $1.14 million. The containers, filled with 1,500 tonnes of waste, left the Philippines on May 31 aboard the MV Bavaria cargo ship. They were later transferred to a larger ship, the Anna Maersk. That ship docked Saturday morning at Deltaport, a 30-minute drive south from Vancouver.
The Burnaby waste to energy facility converts about 25 per cent of the region’s household trash into energy every year using mass burn technology.
In an interview, director of solid waste at Metro Vancouver, Chris Allan, said the contamination in the containers was minimal.
“Environment Canada and CFIA have inspected the material when it was over in the Philippines and they’ve got waste audits of it and we’ve seen the waste audits. It’s 95% plus paper and plastic, that’s the predominant material,” Allan said. “From a technical standpoint, that presents no problem with us handling it at the waste-to-energy facility.”
The containers were inspected again by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency before being brought to the Burnaby facility. The agency could not be immediately reached for comment Sunday.
With files from Jen St. Denis, Tessa Vikander and Ainslie Cruickshank
Alex McKeen is a Vancouver-based reporter covering transportation and labour. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_mckeen