Vietnam is one of Asia’s five worst polluters of ocean plastic waste, according to international organizations. With 13 million tonnes of waste released to the ocean every year, the country ranks 17th in the world for ocean plastic waste pollution.
Although there are no official statistics on the amount and varieties of plastic in the Vietnamese sea and islands, plastic waste is easy to see in Vietnamese waters, with the country’s 112 estuaries the main gateways of plastic to the ocean.
Numbers from Vietnam’s Association of Plastic illustrate the scale of the problem. In 1990, each Vietnamese consumed 3.8kg of plastic per year, but 25 years later, the figure hit 41kg.
As many as 1,000 plastic bags are used each minute but only 27 percent of them are treated and recycled.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) estimated that about 80 tonnes of plastic waste and bags are thrown away every day in Hà Nội and HCM City combined.
On the positive side, Vietnam has taken efforts to manage imported plastic scrap and monitor plastic production and consumption.
Director General of the sea and islands administration, Tạ Đình Thi, said in 2018, Vietnam proposed Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia and launched initiatives to foster global co-operation in plastic waste reduction.
A campaign launched by MONRE last year delivers the message that single actions are not enough to address plastic pollution but a series of actions like plastic recycling, saying no to single plastic use and seeking alternative energy solutions can help.
Nguyễn Thế Tuấn, head of Vietnam Administration of Seas and Islands, said the first priority was to review legal documents related to plastic waste’s risk management to complete legal framework on Vietnam’s ocean plastic waste combined with the environmentally-friendly ocean growth strategy.
As 80 percent of plastic waste comes from the mainland, management on plastic production and consumption is of importance, according to experts. Vietnam is trying to make changes, starting with changing public behavior.
Nguyễn Thượng Hiền, head of solid waste management department of MONRE’s Vietnam Environmental Administration said that MONRE aimed to reduce 65 percent of non-biodegradable plastic bags used at supermarkets and shopping malls by 2020 compared to 2010. By 2026, Vietnam targets zero non-biodegradable plastic bags.
The majority of solid waste in Vietnam is treated by burning or dumped in landfills. However, these methods are said to have low environmental and economic values because landfills cause land pollution while burning emits toxic air.
According to Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Trần Hồng Hà, Vietnam has studied methods to apply technology in making environmentally-friendly materials from waste.
“Technology application to limit landfills and take advantage of values from waste is an urgent task,” he said.
Vietnam has recently succeeded in turning waste to energy or organic carbon – a compound used to improve soil and applied in organic agriculture.
The energy generated from waste has been used for the national grid in HCM City. The organic carbon soil has been certified to have higher nutrition levels than cow and chicken manure, even two times higher than organic bio-fertilizer.
Nguyễn Gia Long, director of Hydraulic Machine Ltd Company and waste-to-energy inventor in Vietnam said the technology could be applied in the community and follows global green energy trend and has low investment in device and equipment and helps cut spending on hiring staff thanks to automation.
New Technology Company employs pyrolysis technology which uses heat to recycle plastic. Because plastic waste treatment and recycle sector plays a big role in environmental protection and renewable energy development, Nguyễn Thành Tài, director of New Technology Company, said the State should grant preferential policies to individuals and organizations to encourage them to invest in solid waste recycling.