Hannah Tollefson & Sara Wylie
Vancouver, BC and Toronto, ON Canada
Return to Sender tells the story of global waste flows and struggles over the uneven burdens of toxicity. It proceeds in three parts. The first narrates the Khian Sea waste disposal incident, in which a cargo ship carrying 14,000 tons of toxic ash traveled from Philadelphia across the Atlantic Ocean in 1986. When countries in the Caribbean, Central America and Africa refused to accept the waste, the bunker covertly dumped 4000 tons of ash in Haiti, and illegally disappeared the remainder into the ocean in 1988.
In 1997, funds were raised for “Project Return to Sender” in which the waste was picked up from Haiti and forcibly returned to the United States, setting precedents for hazardous waste disposal via cargo ship.
The second part tells the story of 69 shipping containers of contaminated garbage, marked as recycling, that were exported in 2013 from Canada to the Philippines. When workers opened the containers to find the tainted trash, activists raised the issue to one of national diplomatic proportions. In the week that Canada marked its 152nd birthday, the cargo ship Anna Maersk docked in Tsawwassen, BC with the containers of rotted garbage. Both cases show Western waste displacement not only a means of exporting harm, but also considers how infrastructures of circulation reproduce racist colonial systems of hierarchy and value of human and nonhuman life and matter.
The video ends with a speculative inquiry to the tensions between aspirations toward zero waste futures in the face of extractive and consumption-based economies, and the inevitable processes of decay, breakdown, and failure that befall life and matter.
Hannah Tollefson is a doctoral student in communication studies at McGill University. Informed by environmental humanities and media and technology studies, her research examines the mutual implications of environment and infrastructure, with a focus on how extraction, energy, and logistics shape settler colonial resource economies and ecologies.
Sara Wylie is a non-fiction filmmaker, producer and researcher. Her most current film “The Garden Collective” about the Prison for Women Memorial Collective in Kingston, Ontario is currently playing festivals. Her films have screened at DOXA Documentary Film Festival (Vancouver), RIDM Documentary Festival (Montreal), the Canadian Labour International Film Festival, and more. Sara graduated with distinction from Ryerson University’s Documentary Media MFA program in 2019.