Workers operate the electronic waste treatment system at a waste treatment plant in Thái Nguyên Province. VNA/VNS Photo Hoàng Nguyên
By Mai Hương
HÀ NỘI — Management of electrical and electronic waste is a challenging issue in Việt Nam. However, the situation is expected to improve as proposed new rules which impose responsibility for product disposal on producers will promote recycling businesses to form a sustainable circular ecosystem.
Electronic waste (e-waste) is a generic term used to describe all types of old, end-of-life or discarded electrical and electronic equipment. This kind of waste is piling up in modern cities and may end up in the municipal waste stream.
Ineffective management of e-waste is not only a huge waste of the economy but also creates a burden on environmental protection efforts.
“I have many discarded electrical devices, but I don’t know what to do with them. Eventually, I sell them to scrap dealers or dump them in the landfills,” Nguyễn Kim Ngân, an office worker in Hà Nội, told Viet Nam News.
Like Ngân, Hoàng Thanh Tùng, a music instrument salesman, said he knows dumping used batteries in landfills is not good for the environment but after collecting a box of used batteries, he still puts them in the bin because there is no one to deal with them.
According to experts, the lack of specific environment-focused industrial policies may lead to limited investment in formal waste recycling infrastructure and endanger the sustainability of value chains in the electrical and electronic (E&E) industry of Việt Nam.
Compared to Eastern Asia countries such as Japan and Republic of Korea with about 20 forms of documents governing e-waste regulations, Việt Nam’s number stands at just one due to the under-regulated environment, data from the Global E-Waste Monitor 2020 showed.
Although Việt Nam’s existing environmental protection regulations require companies to take responsibility in recycling and treating e-waste, no definition of e-waste is provided in current regulations.
This year, for the first time, specific regulations to address extended producer responsibility (EPR) on e-waste of the manufacturers and importers is introduced in the draft decree guiding 2020 Environmental Protection Law which is now open for public comment.
EPR is a practice and a policy approach that imposes responsibility for product disposal on producers and importers which apply to six sectors including electrical and electronic (E&E) products, tube and tyres, batteries, lubricants, electric vehicles and packages of all kinds.
According to the draft decree, recycling responsibility can be done through recycling by themselves (or authorise a unit to do it for them) or making a financial contribution to the Vietnam Environmental Protection Fund to support the recycling work.
The implementation time is between 2023 and 2025 depending on different products.
The proposed EPR regulations, which set standards and rates of return and treatment for each kind of products, will allow businesses to choose the ways of product return and treatment that most benefit them, thus help enterprises improve business and attract investment in recycling and waste treatment.
Convenient and fair
According to Dr. Bernd Kopacek, IFC’s E-waste International Expert, one of key important points for implementing e-waste in Việt Nam is the setting up of proper collection infrastructure (separate collection according to the following treatment steps, secured, reporting and etc).
In a consultative workshop on EPR last week, Kopacek shared experience in the EU’s e-waste management system in which member states have to ensure that there is collection system in place, financed by producers, to separately collect e-waste from end users. Convenient collection points must be set up where municipalities can deposit waste equipment collected from households or consumers can return their waste equipment free.
Besides, raising awareness of both consumers and companies about waste classification and treatment is very important, he said.
This also helps informal waste collection and recycling teams improve production capacity and protect the environment while promotes the community’s recognition for those working in the field of recycling and waste treatment, contributing to job creation.
From the business side, to be sustainable and motivate co-operation, the law enforcement must ensure “a level playing field” for all actors, especially when E&E industry is very important to Việt Nam’s economy and attracting many big FDI companies.
Lim Boon Pin, representative of HP Asia Pacific, suggested flexibility is required for compulsory thresholds to be adjusted based on accurate market data and regulatory actions to be implemented to eliminate free riders such as e-commerce operators or small players who exit the market, leaving orphaned products behind.
In a recommendation to Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, ICE SEA working group, which include nine big E&E companies in the world, recommended to review the product scope in five years or gradually expand the list of products in the scope to include all e-waste.
COVID-19 poses a huge challenge for most of companies, including the supply chain manufactures of the E&E sector. However, Vietnamese companies are expected to be more resilient for sustainable recovery and development, so the implementation of EPR is viewed as a strategic focus area for companies to gain more business opportunities in the global value chain reallocation through FDI. — VNS