Sorting a big ask in Vietnam where people dump trash in random places

November 19, 2023 | 04:56 pm PT
Nguyen Nam Cuong Lecturer
The most difficult thing I had to do when I first came to live and work in South Korea was throwing away trash.

I had a memorable experience one time in the communal kitchen at the Academy of Korean Studies. After cracking two eggs for dinner, I tossed the eggshells into the food waste bin. A Korean graduate student looked at me strangely, and asked why I put them there.

"Egg shells are not food waste. If you put them away incorrectly, you may be caught on camera and have to pay a fine of 10,000 won (US$7.74) according to the law."

Frustrated, I went back to my room and reopened the book on trash classification regulations given by the school when it admitted me.

At this point, I realized I had been putting away the trash wrongly for a long time. The book clearly stated that if raw eggs or boiled eggs are damaged and inedible, you should peel the egg shell, throw the inside of the egg along with food waste and the hard shell as regular waste.

The book also instructs that it is best to clean the inside of the egg shell before throwing it away to prevent it from rotting and bugs, cockroaches and other insects from nesting in the trash bag.

I had a totally different experience back in my hometown, Cao Lanh City in Dong Thap Province in southern Vietnam.

At that time, after the road in my neighborhood was widened, the ward called on people to put trash cans in front of their houses and classify them to keep the urban landscape clean.

But my family felt awkward when a neighbor said it was too wasteful to spend VND100,000 ($4.12) on trash cans and so we should share them.

I had to refuse saying my family had a lot of trash to dump every day.

So the neighbor resorted to leaving his trash in others' bins.

Sometimes it would be my house, and the bags would be unsorted. The garbage would pile up popping the lids open, and if dogs or cats kicked them, the trash would scatter everywhere, smelly and messy.

One of my relatives encountered a similar problem when a neighbor would throw four or five bags of garbage on the street whenever they liked, not bothering about the trash collection time. Flies, rodents and insects would gather around the rubbish and then enter neighboring houses like hers.

Sanitation workers collect garbage left on Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street in HCMC after a countdown event to celebrate a new year on January 1, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Sanitation workers collect garbage left on Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street in HCMC after a countdown event to celebrate the New Year on Jan. 1, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

But Koreans too did not have any awareness of the environment previously. Not so long ago, before the 2000s, if you parked your car for a while around the World Cup stadium, flies would cover the windshield.

Then hundreds of trillions of won of people's tax money were poured into cleaning up the environment, gradually changing people's thinking until they were no longer feel bothered about having to put eggshells in the regular garbage bin and egg scrap in the food waste bin.

Rural people do not throw fertilizer bags or pesticide bottles into canals, streams or rivers.

According to the latest statistics, in Vietnam, its population of 100 million produces 120,000 tons of waste per day.

In a year the country generates around 1.8 million tons of plastic waste, including more than 30 billion plastic bags, more than 80% of which are discarded after being used once.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has over the years drawn up many guidelines and policies to limit the impacts of waste.

The most recent is the requirement to classify waste at source, an initiative that was started more than 20 years ago but whose implementation still remains a struggle.

Many environmental protection campaigns have failed for various reasons. But from personal experience, I realize that no matter how many guidelines or policies you have, they will be fruitless if people only bother to keep their house clean and have no qualms about their neighbors suffering from their trash.

*Nguyen Nam Cuong is a lecturer at FPT University.

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