Vietnam's 'pearl island' faces growing trash pollution

By Gia Chinh   November 20, 2023 | 07:22 pm PT
Vietnam's 'pearl island' faces growing trash pollution
Garbage at a beach in Phu Quoc. Photo courtesy of WWF Vietnam
Phu Quoc, Vietnam's largest island, is grappling with major challenges from plastic waste that is seriously hurting the island's tourism reputation.

Often dubbed "pearl island" after its famous pearl products, Phu Quoc generates about 190 tons of solid waste every day, 89% of which is collected and treated by two methods: burial and incineration at six centralized landfills.

Research from 2020-2023 of an ocean plastic waste reduction project between the Department of Seas and Islands under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the World Wide Fund for Nature Vietnam (WWF Vietnam) said waste was the most urgent problem among many risks causing environmental pollution on the tourism-reliant island.

A report by the Institute of Sea and Island Research revealed that with a population of more than 146,000 people, families in Phu Quoc generate about 13 tons of trash on average every day.

With about 3 million visitors each year, the amount of waste generated from tourism activities was estimated to be much larger than local sources.

Currently, Phu Quoc has about 9,400 standard rooms above two stars that generate more than 39 tons of waste every day in case of 100% of capacity, while 14,000 rooms below two stars discard over 24 tons each day, the report showed.

In the last three years, the capacity of high-end hotel rooms usually reached about 80% at small accommodation establishments. Therefore, the total amount of trash generated per day from accommodation facilities is about 50 tons per day.

In addition, restaurants in Phu Quoc also generate about four tons of waste every day of which plastic waste accounts for more than 16%, higher than the figure in tourist islands like Con Dao (Ba Ria-Vung Tau) and Cu Lao Cham (Hoi An).

The rate of using plastic bags in Phu Quoc restaurants amounted to 63%.

Trash collected at a coral reef in Phu Quoc. Photo courtesy of WWF Vietnam

Trash collected at a coral reef in Phu Quoc. Photo courtesy of WWF Vietnam

While the amount of waste generated from tourism activities has been on the rise, waste treatment plants have limited capacity, causing local landfills to be overloaded.

The amount of plastic waste released into Phu Quoc environment was 1,036 tons annually, equivalent to about 2.83 tons a day.

Seeing the importance of the environment and ecology for economic development, Phu Quoc is gradually finding solutions to deal with the city's waste problem.

In 2022, the island piloted household-scale waste incinerators.

Last year, 12 sets of tourist trash cans and two public drinking water fountains were installed in venues on the island, of which four trash cans were available in Dinh Cau Temple and Bach Dang Park, and another eight in Tran Hung Dao Street, Duong Dong Ward, at a total cost of nearly VND800 million (US$34,296), sponsored by WWF Vietnam.

Dinh Cau Temple and Bach Dang Park are among the favorite destinations for tourists and locals, so receive the largest amount of single-use plastic waste.

In addition, many agencies, departments and businesses in Phu Quoc banned using disposable water bottles, and arranged shared water containers and paper cups in offices and meetings.

WWF Vietnam recommends that Phu Quoc invests in more standard waste treatment areas, as well as increase specialized vehicles to collect garbage, and install more trash bins to ensure all people have access to garbage collection services, especially in remote areas.

The group estimates the Asia-Pacific region's tourism industry loses $622 million annually due to beach cleanup costs.

Although a large amount of money has been spent, subsequent activities were not effective, with many famous beaches having to close because of trash such as Maya in Thailand or Boracay Island in the Philippines.

Once one of the busiest tourism hotspots in southern Vietnam, the coastal nation's largest island Phu Quoc is losing its charm to increasingly expensive air tickets, increasingly worse tourism services and trash pollution, insiders said.

The number of visitors has fallen sharply from last year.

During the five-day Reunification Day holidays (April 30 - May 5) Phu Quoc received 112,000 visitors, down 11.5% from the same period last year.

During the four-day National Day (Sept. 2) holidays, the number of visitors fell by 40% to a meager 19,000 and room occupancy was only 27%.

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