​How is garbage collected in other Asian countries? Vietnamese expats give the lowdown

By Viet Anh   November 30, 2020 | 08:28 pm PT
​How is garbage collected in other Asian countries? Vietnamese expats give the lowdown
A waste disposal area in Seoul with bins in different colors for different kinds of trash. Photo by Yoo Ri-lee.
South Korea, Singapore and Japan have strict guidelines for disposing of waste, including prison sentences for violators, which Vietnam can learn from, according to Vietnamese living in those countries.

"I hope Vietnam will have a garbage sorting system similar to that in South Korea", Yoo Ri-lee, a Vietnamese who has been living in Seoul for over 20 years, tells VnExpress International.

There are nationwide rules that are adapted to each locality depending on environmental conditions.

In Gwanak-gu District in Seoul, Yoo follows guidelines put up on the local website. Households have to sort garbage into three categories, domestic, food and recyclable wastes. She has to use standard bags with a volume-based system to discard rubbish at designated places, from 6 p.m. to midnight on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

People living in other areas have different disposal times, and garbage trucks operate from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. every day.

Yoo explains that standard bags are tools to measure tariffs based on size. In Seoul, a 50L bag, equal to 15 kg, costs 1,250 won ($1.13). The bag sizes range from 2L to 100L. South Korea has different rates for seven areas ranging from 1,250 won to 2,070 won.

Penalties for failing to comply with the rules in Gwanak-gu start at 100,000 won ($90.30) for disposing of in non-standard bags the first time, 200,000 won for a second violation and 300,000 won for the third.

The highest infraction is when someone dumps house construction debris and fails to report it.

In Incheon City, Tran Nam, another Vietnamese, says in his building fees for collection of domestic and food wastes are based on weight. They are sorted into specific bags and automatically transferred in smart boxes to designated areas for recycling.

Metal and glass wastes are collected at specific locations by vehicles when the authorities receive "bin full notification" from sensor systems. Tran pays around $20 per month for garbage disposal, which is included in the building maintenance fee.

A person not sorting waste at home is recorded by the sensor system and CCTV, and issued a warning letter for the first violation and a fine of 30,000 won.

In 2019 South Korea was recognized by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a country that recycled 95 percent of its food waste.

In 2017 it was third best at "recycling" internationally, behind only Germany and Austria.

In Toa Payoh, Singapore, Pham Phuong Dung says she sorts garbage into three categories: domestic waste, e-waste, and recyclable waste. The disposal area is outside her building to keep out insects and avoid fire risks. Garbage trucks come around once a day to collect domestic waste and three times a day or once a week for recyclable wastes depending on bin size.

The collection fees are based on type of premises and geographical location. Pham pays around SGD8.25 ($6.16) a month for garbage collection, while people who live in private houses pay SGD27.47.

The fines for illegal dumping of waste start at SGD10,000 ($7,400) and go up to SGD100,000, imprisonment for up to 12 months or both for repeat offenders.

In Suzaka, Nagano, Japan, Phan Phuong Thuy, says the country has common rules for waste disposal while collection days and bag colors vary.

She separates wastes into burnable and plastic items and dumps them in designated areas four days a week. Burnable refuse is collected in blue bags on Mondays and Thursdays, plastic waste in green bags on Tuesdays and various kinds of rubbish including non-burnable on Wednesdays.

Phan can take cartons and bottles to collect locations at supermarkets at any time. In her building each house has a specific disposal area where people can bring rubbish for free before 8 a.m. every day.

However, people have to buy stamps at supermarkets or at the local city hall to discharge large-sized wastes like blankets and mattresses.

Household appliances like refrigerators and washing machines are collected at designated locations for a fee of dozens of dollars each. Japan has penalties for violating garbage disposal rules, but Phan has not seen or heard about such an instance since she began to live there in 2018.

Lessons for Vietnam

During her latest visit to Vietnam in early 2019 Phan saw there were more garbage bins in her hometown, Phu Tho, which she describes as a "positive change." Phu Tho is around 85 kilometers from Hanoi.

But she barely noticed any changes in rubbish management in the capital and other major cities.

She suggests that the government should severely punish illegal trash dumping along with taking measures to help increase public awareness. She also wants sorting of waste done at source.

She admits she felt the waste-collection rules in Japan were "inconvenient" when she first arrived in the country from Vietnam. But she became very impressed with the way children were taught at school about their responsibility to protect the environment. She gradually recognized that the rules were not as strict as people thought, and merely required people to have awareness.

Japan is renowned for its cleanliness around the world.

Pham from Singapore reckons the government does a good job in waste management because it has the required infrastructure and technology. Singapore has schemes to achieve a goal of Zero Waste Nation, and most people scrupulously comply with regulations.

Yoo noticed no improvement in trash management in Vietnam when she visited in July 2019.

She highlights the relentless improvements being made in South Korea. People living in apartment buildings are required to use cards to pay for food waste in recent years.

Such measures encourage people to consume economically and reduce waste dramatically, she said.

Vietnam generates 25.5 million tons of solid wastes a year, of which 75 percent is buried. Hanoi and HCMC spend VND1.2-1.5 trillion ($52-65 million) a year each, or around 3.5 percent of their budget, on collecting and treating garbage.

On November 17 the National Assembly passed amendments to the Law on Environment Protection that require households sort their trash into three categories: recyclable, food and other wastes. Households will be charged for the garbage they discard starting no later than in 2025.

Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha said this would persuade people to sort trash at source and reduce the volume they dumped into the environment.

go to top