The fading fires of Hanoi's charcoal stoves

By Ngoc Thanh   January 3, 2020 | 06:12 pm GMT+7

With Hanoi seeking to eradicate the use of charcoal for cooking by 2021 to prevent pollution, charcoal production facilities are shutting down.

Before 2015, the alley of Bui Xuong Trach in Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan District was one of the most popular charcoal pellet manufacturers as ten families used to produce the charcoal which gets the name from the shape similar to a honeycomb. Now, only 4 families keep producing.Since 2017, Hanoi has implemented a plan to eradicate the production of honeycomb pellet to tackle air pollution in the city. Until the end of 2019, 33,000 stoves were removed. In October 2019, Hanoi’s People’s Committee maintained that the charcoal will have to be removed completely before the end of 2020. The city will provide support for citizens to stop the use of honeycomb charcoal stoves.

Before 2015 this alley of Bui Xuong Trach in Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan District was one of the biggest charcoal pellet making locations with 10 family-run facilities making the popular honeycomb-shaped pellets. Now only four remain in business.

In 2017 Hanoi unveiled a plan to stop the production of charcoal to tackle pollution, and has so far had 33,000 stoves removed. The Municipal People’s Committee wants charcoal stoves to be fully gone before the end of 2020. Authorities have helped people using them switch to other types of stoves that are more environment-friendly like those using gas or agricultural waste.

5 years ago, my family made 10,000 pellet and sold them within a day, now we just hope to sell 1,000 to 2,000, said Nguyen Lieu while mixing coal powder and mud before molding them. His family has been trying to stick with their livelihood before the local authorities banned honeycomb pellet. According to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, there were still more than 22,000 of them as of November 2019. Hanoians still burn 528 tons of charcoal every day, equivalent to 1,870 tons of CO2 emissions. 

"Five years ago my family made 10,000 pellets a day and sold them; now we just hope to sell 1,000-2,000," Nguyen Lieu says while mixing coal powder and mud before molding them. His family is trying to sustain its livelihood until authorities completely ban charcoal pellets by the end of this year. According to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, more than 22,000 were still in use as of November 2019. Hanoians still burn 528 tons of charcoal every day, equivalent to 1,870 tons of CO2 emissions.

Mr. Bien, an owner of a manufacturing facility, stands among thousands of unsold honeycomb pellet. Bien and his wife have not known how to deal with the situation when the demand for their products has been dropping.

Bien, the owner of a charcoal making facility, stands amid thousands of unsold pellets. He and his wife do not know how to cope as demand for the product keeps falling.

Working with charcoal every day, local workers use masks and gloves as personal protective equipment. Research by the Hanoi Environmental Protection Department found that the charcoal also generates dust, including PM2.5 dust and other emissions such as CO2, CO, SO2, and PAHs.In the past, when the selling was good, each of the facility hired 20 workers daily, now we have only 2-3 people, said Lieu. He added that they are struggling to find an alternative, in the worst case I will work as a motorbike taxi driver.

Workers working in charcoal making facilities wear masks and gloves. "In the past, when demand was good, each facility hired 20 workers; now we have only 2-3 people," Lieu says. He is struggling to find an alternative livelihood, he admits. "In the worst case, I will work as a motorbike taxi driver."


Lieu uses his own motorbike to make deliveries. Most of the buyers are his loyal clients living in the neighbourhood.

Lieu uses his own motorbike to make deliveries. Most of his buyers are loyal clients living in the neighborhood.

At Pillar T4 of Vinh Tuy Bridge, where honeycomb pellets used to be produced and gathered before being distributed years ago, there is nothing left but some old bikes which were used for delivery.

At Vinh Tuy Bridge’s T4 pillar, where charcoal pellets used to be made before being distributed in the past, there is nothing left now except for some old bikes which are used for delivery.

Meanwhile, a host of residents still opt for the honeycomb charcoal due to its affordability, which is only around VND 3,000 for each. A pallet can boil many kettles of water and stew food. In the future, we will use the gas stoves when the authority ban the charcoal,, said a restaurant owner on Vinh Ho Street of Dong Da District.

But many people still prefer charcoal due to its cost of only around VND3,000 ($0.13) for a pellet. The owner of a restaurant on Vinh Ho Street in Dong Da District says: "A pellet can boil many kettles of water and cook food. In future we will use gas stoves when the authorities ban charcoal."

A local tea stall on the street of Nguyen Luong Bang uses charcoal pellets.

A tea shop on Nguyen Luong Bang Street uses charcoal pellets.

At a kindergarten in the central district of Hoan Kiem, charcoal stoves were used as gardening pots. Apart from decoration, these pots are used to teach children about environment protection, according to the teachers.

At a kindergarten in the central district of Hoan Kiem, charcoal stoves have been converted into flower pots. They are also used to teach children about environmental protection, according to the teachers.

 
 
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