Viet Nam’s urban population is rapidly increasing, with about one million new urban inhabitants each year. Its share of the total population is predicted to increase from today’s 28 per cent to 40 per cent by 2020.
Increasing urban populations, economic growth and changes in consumer behaviour pose new challenges for solid waste management and heighten the need for efficient approaches. Waste management is recognized as an important issue in Viet Nam, but the country struggles with the human and capital resources to address the problem.
Throughout the country’s urban areas, waste collection rates remain at between 60 and 70 per cent2 in inner city areas, while peri-urban communes often have a lower rate of collection. In an attempt to temporarily dispose of waste, many households resort to waste burning, dumping or burying. Such practices pose enormous threats to the environment and public health. Most of the landfills or dumpsites in the country are unsanitary and cause environmental pollution. Many existing dumpsites have reached their capacity, leaving municipal governments to look for new solutions.
The expense of solid waste management often constitutes a substantial portion of city budgets. Studies have shown that the income generated from collection fees may be sufficient to cover the operational costs of waste management but it is not enough to cover necessary investments or improvements in the sector. Hence, local governments often depend on the central Government for subsidies or on official development assistance (ODA) funds for investment in new infrastructure.3 New solutions need to take into account the costs and provide more efficient approaches and a better chance for cost recovery.
In 2009, the Government approved the National Strategy for Integrated Management of Solid Waste up to 2025, with a Vision to 2050. The strategy signified Viet Nam’s commitment to solid waste management in general and the importance of the 3R approach (reduce, reuse, recycle). The ultimate goal is that by 2050, “all solid waste will be collected, reused, recycled and thoroughly treated with advanced and environmentally friendly technologies appropriate to actual conditions of each locality.”4
Properly managing waste has proven to be an enormous challenge; it is also proving to be an opportunity to encourage new partnerships, reduce waste and create healthier habits that lead to a healthier future. To achieve the vision outlined in the national strategy, innovative and environmentally sustainable approaches to solid waste management must be adopted.
There are already a number of composting plants operating in Viet Nam. With the national strategy, it has been necessary to review current practices and learn from the experiences before replicating them or scaling them up. Many of the current plants were developed through ODA projects that focused either on technological solutions (equipment and infrastructure for composting) or community awareness (3R). Few, however, seem to address the issues in an integrated manner in which generation, collection, transportation and disposal of solid waste are included.
ESCAP IRRC project
Partnering with the Environment and Development Action (ENDA), the Association of Cities of Viet Nam and Waste Concern, ESCAP is working with local governments in Ha Tinh, Kon Tum and Quy Nhon cities to develop integrated resource recovery centres (IRRCs). The project aims to improve solid waste collection, save money for each city and include the informal waste sector through equitable employment. In addition, the project looks to work with the Quy Nhon city government to develop the first Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project on composting in Viet Nam. If successful, it is expected that other cities will join the ESCAP project’s next phase and scale up the approach using carbon financing.
In 2010, all three city governments of Ha Tinh, Kon Tum and Quy Nhon prepared detailed baseline studies, collected data on the solid waste management situation, outlined important issues of solid waste management in their cities and suggested potential solutions and plans for the coming years. Using the baseline findings and action plans developed by the city governments, the following profiles illustrate waste management challenges and plans for solutions in all three cities.