Growing mountains of solid waste in Vietnam pose huge environmental challenge

Vietnam’s growing mountains of solid waste each year is posing a huge environmental challenge for municipal authorities and local communities in Vietnam.

Presently, Vietnam produces more than 15 million tons of solid waste each year with almost 50% coming from urban areas. Apart from the growing amounts, the composition of the waste is also becoming more complex with a combination of hazardous industrial and medical waste along with urban waste especially plastics.

The Mekong Delta of Vietnam produces about 5% of the total amount of solid waste of Vietnam. In the delta, the collection rate of solid waste is quite high in urban areas (65-72%) but rather low in rural areas (about 40-55%). A large portion of the solid waste is also organic matter (about 60-85%).1 But the collection and disposal of solid waste and treatment systems are still underdeveloped and rudimentary, with landfill sites being the sole method for dumping the solid waste.

Mountains of waste … and growing

The annual amount of waste generated in Vietnam is approximately 15 million tons. In the Mekong Delta, the average quantity of solid waste is rather low in comparison to other large cities in Vietnam such as Hanoi. The generation rate varies from 0.3 kg/capita-day for entire provinces (including rural areas) in Hoan Kiem, Ba Dinh, Hai Ba Trung, Dong Da provinces to 1.2 kg/capita-day for the urban areas only for the entire country. Different solid waste compositions were reported among big cities and small cities in Vietnam. Most of the available data on solid waste is collected from big cities, very little or no data is available for suburban or rural areas.

Waste collection activities at source, transfer station, and transportation vehicles used in the Mekong Delta region: “meeting point” on the street. (Photo by Truong Minh Chien.)

The total amount of solid waste produced in the Mekong Delta is about 600,000 tons (1,645 tons per day) per year. In comparison to the entire country’s solid waste generation of about 35,100 tons per day, the delta accounts for about 5% of the total amount of solid waste produced nationwide.

It is estimated that on average, the rate of solid waste generation rate is increasing about 10-16% yearly. The waste from industrial areas and medical waste is also projected to increase considerably in the Mekong Delta.2 Presently, industrial waste is 50,000,000 m³/year and medical waste is 5,000 tons/year. Hazardous waste types such as dry and wet batteries, electronic waste and household chemical solvents and non-degradable waste (plastic, metal, and glass) are found more frequently in urban and industrial areas. (See Table 1 for different composition of wastes.)3

A range of collection and disposal methods

Household waste in the residential areas is collected in trash bins without the waste being separated into organic, plastics, bottles, or paper. In general, the trash bins have volumes in the range of 5-100 liters and are made of plastic, metal or even brick tanks or temporary containers. The waste from these bins are then collected by municipal staff from the curbside of the streets.

The waste generated from urban streets, public places, bus stations, and permanent/temporary markets is collected by the Urban Environment Company (URENCO)’s collection services. This work has to be done daily by manual (broom) or mechanical means (sweeper vehicle).

Handcarts are also a typical means of waste collection. These handcarts are usually about 0.6-1.5 m³ and are used as local vehicles for collecting waste at source. These are then moved to the transfer stations and the waste is reloaded into larger vehicles such as forklift trucks, or specialized trucks for the shipment to the disposal site. The typical capacity of these waste transport vehicles is about 4 to 13 tons. In addition, the waterways are also used for the collection of floating waste on rivers and canals that are often generated by floating markets.

Collecting “floating waste” in the Mekong Delta. (Photo by Truong Minh Chien.)

A range of other wastes are more hazardous and pose health risks: infectious or medical waste, chemicals or other waste from industrial and medical sources. The disposal of these wastes can in turn also lead to health problems. When waste including plastics are burned, they produce particulate matter that is suspended in the air. Exposure can increase the risks of developing heart disease, respiratory disease, asthma and emphysema. A range of other wastes are more hazardous and pose health risks: infectious or medical waste, chemicals or other waste from industrial and medical sources. The disposal of these wastes can in turn also lead to health problems. When waste including plastics are burned, they produce particulate matter that is suspended in the air. Exposure can increase the risks of developing heart disease, respiratory disease, asthma and emphysema.

Classifying different types of waste can help in recycling.

So far, Vietnam has not undertaken sorting and classification of waste. The principle of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle is yet to be fully implemented in Vietnam. The recycling sector in Vietnam is actually very active, providing a good basis for increasing rates of reuse and recycling. At the national and local levels, many steps can be taken:

  • Provide more resources to 3Rs programs and increase recycling incentives for companies and consumers;
  • Ensure that recycling facilities are widely available and recycling programs easily accessible especially for institutions and businesses;
  • Create a market for recycled materials; more jobs can be created for sorting materials and producing recycled goods.

A small step towards a clean environment. (Photo by Truong Minh Chien.)

Efficient waste management includes not only the collection and final disposal of waste, but also increasing public awareness about disposal of the waste and the introduction of environmentally friendly materials to cope with changing consumption patterns especially in cities.

 

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Solid waste management in Mekong Delta, J. Viet. Env. 2011, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 27-33
  2. MONRE (Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment) 2010. Vietnam Environment Monitor 2010. Ha Noi
  3. INVENT 2009. Innovative Education Modules and Tools for the Environmental Sector, particularly in Integrated Waste Management. Handbook of INVENT project

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