In search of treasure from trash, rivalry gears up among Saigon waste collectors

By Hong Chau, Phuong Dong   September 15, 2016 | 07:51 pm PT
In search of treasure from trash, rivalry gears up among Saigon waste collectors
Trash collection in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Phuong Dong
Saigon is Vietnam's largest producer of waste, with hungry players eager to chip in the lucrative pickup industry.

Trash collection, a service that has mostly been overlooked in Saigon, is now a booming business here, with thousands of pickup workers chasing after monthly fees and gains from recycling.

Data from the Department of Environment revealed that each day, the city produces some 7,000 tons of garbage, or 2,000 tons more than Hanoi.

Le Van Khoa, who oversees the city’s Waste Recycling Fund, said that about 60 percent of the trash in the city can be recycled and half of all household waste can be used to make compost.

This large amount of waste will bring in fat profits for the collectors, who can make millions from recyclable and reusable things. The attractive monthly fee from residential households is another factor luring more and more manual workers into the market.

My works for Thong Nhat Environmental Sanitation Cooperative, which sends her and others to pick up garbage from 400 households along Chu Van An Street in District 5.

“Each family pays VND30,000 ($1.3) per month for the service. We retain 90 percent and hand over the rest to the cooperative.”

That means My and those in her group can earn VND10.8 million ($485) a month, apart from the income from selling recyclable materials. The average monthly income level is $140 at the moment.

According to the Department of Environment, 60 percent of the city’s garbage is collected by individual haulers while cooperatives and other businesses make up 40 percent.

About 5,500 people are working in the garbage collection industry in total, of which self-employed workers account for more than 70 percent.


Pickup workers improvise to fit all the trash onto their cart in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Phuong Dong

Hanh, another pickup worker, said: “There's now a cut-throat competition so we have to do our best to survive."

The city says the average collection fee is VND20,000 per month, but service providers can charge more if the amount of trash is large.

But as the pickup war is brewing, haulers tend to slash their fees instead of raising them.

Hoang Minh Nhat, head of Cienco, a state-owned company providing environmental services, said that its subcontractors have to pay a fee of VND500,000 to stay in the network, but some self-employed workers can easily undercut them with cheaper rates.

"We haven’t estimated the losses, but the government may need to intervene to ensure a healthy competition,” Nhat said.

Ho Chi Minh City produces about 2.5 million tons of garbage each year, costing the city VND1 trillion ($45 million) for waste treatment alone.

The majority of trash is sent to landfill sites to be buried, while the rest is incinerated and a small portion gets recycled.

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