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Trash collectors face uncertain future after dump closes

Update: January, 20/2015 - 08:44

Fifty-year-old Pham Thi Vui collects garbage at Khanh Son dump in Da Nang. The city has no plan to help waste collectors find stable and less toxic ways to make ends meet after the dump is closed in 2022. — VNS Photo Hoai Nam

by Hoai Nam

DA NANG (VNS) — Pham Thi Vui has had a "steady job" for the last 20 years, collecting garbage from the Khanh Son dump in Da Nang.

Vui, 50, a resident of Hoa Khanh Nam Ward in Lien Chieu District, earns VND100,000 (US$5) each day after collecting and selling scrap iron, plastic bags, cans, paper, and even food.

She knows that the job is hazardous to her health, but says she has no other choice.

"I don't have much education and I am too old to find another job," she said.

Her "job" had enabled her to raise two daughters, with the elder one following in her footsteps. The daughter dropped out of school and began collecting garbage when she was just 10 years old, and ended up marrying a man she met at the same dump, doing the same job.

"My daughter went to the dump everyday even when she was pregnant. And the baby was a hundred percent healthy!" Vui said, thankfully.

But neither Vui nor any one of the 150 or so other people who are self-employed at the dump are health experts.

Ha Van Thai, director of the city's Waste Management and Treatment Company, an affiliate of the Da Nang City's Urban and Environment Company, said the waste collectors face a high risk of health problems since they have no protection of any sort.

"Actually they are not allowed to come into the dump and collect garbage," he said.

We'll starve

"However, we cannot stop them since that's their only way to make ends meet," Thai said, adding that the collectors begged the company to let them in or they would starve.

Huynh Van Hoang, 75, one of Vui's "colleagues" at the dump, said he used to have a farm, but the land was cleared for a a project to expand the Khanh Son landfill eight years ago.

"Then I had to find a way to make a living, and I ended up here. It's not an ideal job for sure, and it's dirty here, but at least many poor people can earn their living here," Hoang said.

The dump, 20km from the city's downtown area, was expanded from 9.8ha in 1992 to 48.3ha in 2007.

It receives a huge amount of refuse as the city discharges nearly 700 tonnes of waste each day.

A rule

Thai said the company has set a rule for all the waste collectors. They can only collect garbage after it is sprayed with a disinfectant, and before the garbage is buried.

The dump will be open to the collectors until 2022, Thai said, admitting that city authorities do not have a plan for them after that.

Vui was aghast at the news.

"I don't know what I will do if the dump closes!" she exclaimed.

Le Thi Tuyet Mai, vice chairwoman of the Hoa Khanh Nam Precinct, said her administration has been struggling with creating jobs for the waste collectors because most of them are uneducated and old.

They can only do simple, manual jobs, she said.

However, Thai said that since Da Nang does not have a system to classify and sort its garbage, the waste collectors could be deployed for this task.

"I think the city could study this possibility so that we can solve both the problem of overloaded dumps and create jobs for the garbage collectors. The city could invest in a waste classification and management system and hire these collectors for the manual classification phase," he said.

"It would be much better for them – they would have a stable income and health insurance, and more important, protective gear." — VNS

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