As environmental concerns rise, are Vietnamese finally paying heed to trash?

By Dat Nguyen   July 18, 2019 | 11:13 pm PT
As environmental concerns rise, are Vietnamese finally paying heed to trash?
A woman walks past garbage trolleys in Cau Giay District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress.
Vietnamese are intensifying their battle against trash as the amount rises with consumption in major cities, posing an environmental threat.

With a bag of trash in hand, Thanh Ha hesitates in front of the two bins, trying to remember into which one her banana peels should go, ‘organic’ or ‘recycling’.

At 68 she never imagined she would have to learn from her 12-year-old grandson how to throw away her trash all over again after her neighborhood recently replaced the traditional trash bin with a new one: a combination of two bins for people to sort at source.

"My grandson told me I need to throw food wastes into the bin that says ‘organic,’ and plastic bags into one that says ‘recycling.’ Though he has told me that a few times, I still mess up occasionally."

She has noticed changes in her urban neighborhood near Hanoi, with people exhorting each other to reduce trash. Banners are being set up near elevators to encourage people to reduce the use of plastic bags, and the buses that carry her to the downtown have a question printed on them: "Have you done anything to reduce waste today?"

She said: "I’ve heard that near Hoan Kiem (Sword) Lake there are cameras to record people who litter on streets so that they can be fined. Litterbugs are now criminals."

The changes in Ha’s neighborhood are also occurring across Vietnam as more and more people sign up for the war against trash.

A motorbike driver rides next to garbage trolleys in Nam Tu Liem District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress.

A motorbike driver rides next to garbage trolleys in Nam Tu Liem District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress.

Hanoi in April began a pilot project to record littering offenses using cameras around the iconic Sword Lake. During a three-week trial six people were caught littering and paid total fines of VND13 million ($550).

The Hanoi Urban Environment Company (URENCO), which installed the cameras and monitors them, even wants to shame litterers by publicly displaying their images.

Ho Chi Minh City is also trying to step up its game in dealing with trash. Authorities in the country’s biggest city want all households to segregate organic and inorganic wastes after 2020 and fine those who fail to do so VND15-20 million ($645-860).

The central Thua Thien-Hue Province last month ordered all government offices and agencies not to use disposable bottles, including at conferences, and instead use bottles of more than 20 liters that are easier to recycle. It also wants supermarkets, malls and restaurants to replace disposable plastic with eco-friendly materials by 2020.

The country generates around 70,000 tons of waste daily, more than half in urban areas, with Ho Chi Minh City leading with 8,900 tons followed by Hanoi with 6,500 tons, according to the Vietnam Environment Administration (VEA).

With a lack of efficient treatment facilities, 70 percent of the trash is buried in landfills, many of which are running out of space. People living near them protest against them, saying they have been the sources of odor and toxicity for decades.

Treatng trash has now become an urgent requirement. The government issued an order this year stopping the import of plastic scrap from 2025. Last year the country imported 9.2 million tons, up 14 percent from 2017.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc last month exhorted the country to strive for zero disposable plastic use in urban stores, markets and supermarkets by 2021. He ordered the environment ministry to review policies to limit plastic waste and install small-scale plastic recycling plants in industrial zones.

The public, especially in big cities, is taking part in campaigns to reduce waste. Young people are volunteering to clean up trash in cities and tourist hotspots. Environment-friendly materials like grass straws and reusable bags are becoming more and more popular in Hanoi and HCMC.

Despite all this, trash continues to pile up on the streets of big cities. Supermarkets and shops hand out plastic bags generously as they don’t have to face any consequences, and littering remains an entrenched habit.

Hanoi has been calling on its residents for the last three years to put out waste to be collected by garbage trucks only at certain hours, but to no avail. The law provides for fines of VND5-7 million ($215-300) for littering sidewalks, streets or drainage systems, but it is rarely enforced.

"It’s hard to live a day in Hanoi without discarding at least one plastic bag," Duc Anh, who lives in the downtown, said.

"I know it’s bad to use single-use plastic, but there does not seem to be many alternatives when a vendor hands me a banh mi (Vietnamese-style sandwich) wrapped in a plastic bag."

The 20-year-old student has participated in a few cleanup projects in the city, including trash collection in one of the most polluted areas near the Long Bien Bridge over the Red River.

But these efforts have been "tiny," he said.

"There is just too much trash out there. In the war against trash, I think we are losing."

Hanoi residents suffer the stink of uncollected trash:

go to top