Vietnam makes a mess of waste management

By Phong Van   November 26, 2019 | 05:30 am PT
Vietnam makes a mess of waste management
Trash carts are seen at a residential area in Nam Tu Liem District, Hanoi, July 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.
Unclear delineation of the roles of state agencies in managing waste has made a mess of sorting and collecting trash in Vietnam.

Vietnam is sorting trash in four different ways and one type of trash is put under the eyes of up to six ministries.

Depending on the area and the source, the trash is divided into solid waste or sludge, or categorized based on its characteristics such as common or hazardous waste.

It could also be classified by its source (residential households, industrial parks or construction sites), and by areas (urban, rural or industrial areas).

The different ways of sorting trash have resulted in different regulations in management, said Nguyen Hoang Phuong, consultant at the Department of Legislation under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

For one type of domestic solid waste, the Ministry of Construction will be in charge, if it is discarded in urban areas, but the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development will make the call if the waste is generated in rural areas.

"There are currently six ministries directly involved in managing and instructing local authorities to handle waste in Vietnam, not to mention other ministries that are also playing different roles, just indirectly," Phuong said at a conference Monday.

This overlap in waste management has made the system as a whole highly inefficient, she said.

Vietnam still lacks clear rules on sorting and recycling trash. The country produces 25.5 million tons of waste per year, of which 75 percent is buried. Several burial sites in major cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang are overloaded and negatively affecting citizens' lives.

Hanoi and HCMC, in particular, each spend VND1.2-1.5 trillion ($52-65 million) a year, or around 3.5 percent of their budget, on collecting and treating waste.

At a conference last month, Nguyen Thuong Hien, head of the Vietnam Environment Administration's waste management department, had said that there was no solid waste treatment model in the country that met all technical, economic, social, and environmental requirements.

The overlap in garbage management has also led to inconsistencies in imposing sanctions.

As regulated by the healthcare sector, an individual will be fined VND200,000-500,000 ($8.62-21.56) for littering in the public, but the rules set by the environment ministry say the fines could range between VND3 million and VND7 million.

As one solution, experts at the conference suggested Vietnam applies the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) model, which makes producers responsible for their products until they become trash and is collected and recycled.

This policy will boost the garbage collection and recycling rate, reduce the amount of trash buried as well as the burden on the state budget for handling solid waste.

The EPR has in fact been included in the Law on Environmental Protection in 2005 and once again in 2014, but it has not been effective because of a lack of specific implementation guidelines.

Phan Tuan Hung, head of the legislation department under the environment ministry, said completing the EPR policy was essential for efficient management of solid waste and effective fight against plastic waste.

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