Vietnam planned to begin implementing waste classification measures two decades ago, but a lack of support from residents, authorities and trash collectors means an efficient outcome is still nowhere near.
A recent report by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said Ho Chi Minh City had initially drafted plans to classify garbage back in 1999.
Over the 2015-2016 period, the city began efforts to impose garbage classification regulations in six districts. It aimed to expand the model to all 24 districts starting in 2017.
However, the plan soon fell into oblivion as authorities failed to convince citizens or trash collectors to separate waste into different categories.
At the time Tran Anh Duc, 54, who lives in District 8, said he heard on the news before the pandemic that people in HCMC would have to classify garbage or else face fined.
“But nothing happened and none of my neighbors sorted their garbage so I just kept dumping it all in one bin.”
In 2018, Vietnam’s biggest city announced that it planned to have all families separating waste efficiently by 2020, with fines imposed on those who fail to do so.
According to the plan, after 2020, all families, businesses, and organizations across the city were to sort their waste into three categories: organic trash, recycled trash, and other.
However, no progress has been made until now.
|A trash bin that has separated compartments for sorting waste on Nguyen Hue Street in downtown HCMC in 2017. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Nga
Huynh Minh Nhut, director of the HCMC Urban Environment Co. Ltd, told Vietnam News Agency in a report earlier this year that in fact, many families in the city had sorted the trash but when collecting it, sanitation workers usually put all types of trash together to make it easier for transportation. This outcome gradually caused people to lose interest.
He explained that trash collectors are not equipped with the proper equipment to ensure the trash is categorized, and their salaries are not enough to ask them to fulfill the extra task.
In 2006, Hanoi piloted a waste classification project in Hoan Kiem District.
With funds and support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the project aimed to reduce the amount of trash discarded into the environment and save on the cost of collecting, transporting, and treating garbage.
Under the project, households in the district received guidance on how to sort domestic waste into two types: organic and inorganic.
People were scheduled to dump their organic waste every day from 4 – 6 p.m., and then dispose of their inorganic waste only once every four days.
Vu Thi Que, 76, a former ward official who was in charge of the project, said for the first six months, the garbage classification was carried out as regulated.
However, over time, sanitation workers started to put all kinds of trash into one cart and as a result, fewer and fewer families sorted their waste at source.
After two years, when the pilot project came to an end, almost no one was separating waste at source, she said.
|A sanitation worker collects garbage in Hanoi in 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
Le Trong Sy, deputy chairman of Phan Chu Trinh Ward in Hoan Kiem District, said: “Initially, it worked quite well, but later the plan revealed its limitations as most people in Hanoi live in narrow houses and keeping inorganic trash in their houses for four days took up too much space and caused unpleasant odors [when the trash was food and drink packaging].”
Da Nang rolled out its waste classification plan on a trial basis in two Hai Chau District wards in 2017.
By June 2018, more than 80% of families in those wards were sorting their trash.
However, as the city expanded the pilot project to other wards, it failed to yield any efficiency.
According to the Pollution Control Department under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, waste classification at source has not worked because implementation from the top has stopped at encouraging people to do so, and authorities have not employed any coercive measures.
Localities were also under-equipped with tools for collecting each type of classified waste. In many cases, all types of waste are transported with the same equipment, in the same vehicles, and has the same treatment methods applied to them, therefore classification became meaningless.
Hoang Duong Tung, former deputy director of the Vietnam Environment Administration at the ministry, said experiences from countries that have successfully classified garbage at source shows that in order for the policy to work it must be made mandatory and those who breach the rules must be fined.
“Advanced countries build very clean garbage collection areas, install cameras, or have people standing there to monitor. The trash is sorted into bags with different colors,” he said.
Tung added that in order to make trash sorting as effective as can be in Vietnam, it is necessary to clarify the responsibilities of all units involved in collecting, transporting, and treating the garbage to avoid wasting the efforts of local people who have classified the trash.
|Locals attend a workshop held by the authorities of Hanoi’s Dong Da District to collect recycled garbage in 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh
The environment ministry ordered localities earlier this month to start enforcing a new three-category trash sorting policy no later than Dec. 31, 2024.
In guidelines issued on Nov. 7, it announced that solid domestic waste must be classified into three categories: recycled waste, organic waste, and other waste.
The Law on Environmental Protection, which took effect last year, also gives sanitation workers the right to refuse to collect trash that has not been sorted.
The government issued a directive last year that requires households who fail to sort their domestic waste to pay a fine of VND1 million (US$41) each time they do so.
However, the law remains on paper only.
Source: VN Express