Vietnam struggling to decide how to treat solid waste

By Gia Chinh   May 13, 2019 | 10:31 pm PT
Vietnam struggling to decide how to treat solid waste
A man drives a truck at a garbage dump in Bac Ninh Province, outside Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Reuters/Kham
The treatment of solid wastes in the country has come under scrutiny, with authorities struggling to identify optimal methods.

Some 25.5 million tons of waste are generated annually and five treatment methods are used -- burning to generate electricity, turning it into micro-organic fertilizers, burial, gasification, and incineration – officials said at a recent conference held by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

More than 75 percent is buried, but only 30 percent of that volume is properly buried and benign.

But space for landfills is shrinking and many cities and provinces are gradually opting to burn waste to generate electricity.

Dang Huy Dong, a former Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment, said burning waste for electricity is akin to using coal, a method the world is trying to stop because of its serious health impacts.

"We are almost unable to sort solid waste at source and so burning trash will create dioxin, and only the most advanced technologies can prevent that from happening."

Dioxin is highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones, and even cause cancer.

Dong expressed doubts that Vietnam's current burning methods can guarantee safety.

But Luong Duy Hanh of the environment ministry’s legal office said there is no need for concern on this count.

There are different varieties of plastic, and only polycarbonate, or PC, creates dioxin when burned, but the current technologies used in Vietnam completely take care of that, he said.

Other countries only sort trash at source to serve recycling purposes rather than for solid-waste treatment, he said.

"Our country is still poor and if we want to do exactly what developed nations are doing, it will cost a lot. We can only adapt new methods step by step and try our best not to cause pollution."

Dong rejected the claim that since Vietnam is still poor burning trash to generate electricity is acceptable, and said scientists and experts’ opinions should be sought.

Vo Tuan Nhan, a deputy environment minister, said he had taken all ideas on board and would continue the ministry’s research to come up with a general set of guidelines for treating solid waste.

"The ministry will send delegations to 25 cities and provinces to study how they are treating their waste before choosing the most suitable methods.

"The objective is to choose methods that are affordable and at the same time ensure environmental safety."

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