Scrap after recycling is burned, causing air pollution in Quảng Phú Cầu Commune, a recycling village in Hà Nội's Ứng Hoà District. — Photo kinhtedothi.vn
HÀ NỘI — Waste recycling is a branch of the 3Rs (reduce – reuse – recycle) that develops a circular economy with both economic and environmental benefits for the future.
However, at present, recycling activity is mainly done through traditional scrap collection and trade. The waste is brought to the processing at small gathering points in suburban areas, which causes many negative consequences.
In recent years, changes in people's material life in "scrap and waste recycling villages" shows that the economic benefits of waste recycling are not a fantasy. However, how to ensure benefits combined with environmental protection is not easy.
Leaving paddy fields
In Hà Nội, there are thousands of waste collection and recycling facilities from large to small scale scattered throughout the city.
Most facilities operate on a household model forming "recycling villages."
Nguyễn Văn Thế, a resident in Quảng Phú Cầu Commune of Ứng Hoà District, told Kinh Tế & Đô Thị (Economy and Urban Affairs) newspaper that since he and many other households in the commune quit rice planting to switch to waste collection and recycling, they earned higher and more stable incomes.
"It has been almost 10 years. My job involves separating and removing plastic from scrap plastic bottles before being put into recycling," Thế said.
"It did not take too much labour, and it also helps an elderly person like me to ensure a salary of VNĐ6-7 million (US$250-300) per month. If I just relied on a few hectares of paddy field, I could not afford my life," he said.
Recycling has become a profession, successfully creating jobs for local people and attracting more workers in the surrounding areas.
In the first days, farmers like Thế participated in manual recycling workshops in their leisure time between the crops. They considered it a secondary source of income, but it gradually became permanent.
Vũ Xuân Hoạt, a resident in Phụng Thượng Commune of Phúc Thọ District, who also engages in recycling, said he could get hundreds of thousands of đồng a day working as scrap collector.
The income is much higher than being a paddy farmer, he said.
Currently, many farmers have quit rice cultivation.
Similarly, Nguyễn Văn Phi, owner of a waste recycling workshop in Phụng Thượng Commune, also said that scrap collection and recycling helped improve his family's living standards and create jobs for local labourers.
Recycling can improve the income of some people. However, due to the current spontaneous and small-scale model, habitat destruction risks and long-term consequences are even more significant if not thoroughly solved.
In recycling villages such as Quảng Phú Cầu and Phụng Thượng, the pollution situation has become severe for water, land and air.
After screening recyclable materials, the surplus products are treated by burying, burning or being put directly into the environment.
Trần Thị Hoàn, living in Xà Cầu Hamlet of Quảng Phú Cầu Commune, said that the scene of black smoke rising from the burning garbage dumps in the middle of roads or the black water of ponds and lakes was not uncommon in the area.
Although facing numerous health-related risks, many people came to accept and expect support from local authorities as they wanted to improve their incomes.
"The pollution is mainly from burning scrap. If this situation persists, we fear that our health will be severely affected," Hoàn said.
Due to the spontaneous activities, many owners of scrap collection facilities lack awareness of environmental protection, so they ignore post-recycling waste treatment while the management agencies are also confused.
Dumping, burning, and burying waste products is consequently becoming more and more complicated.
At present, Phúc Thọ District has not yet had any planning for waste and scrap collection areas to serve households operating in the collection and recycling business.
In the recycling villages, the direct workers are not beneficiaries and have been facing health risks related to environmental pollution, said Prof. Hoàng Xuân Cơ, former director of the Centre for Environmental Monitoring and Modeling at Hà Nội's National University of Sciences.
On the contrary, workshop owners earned the most, but most did not live in areas polluted by recycling activities, Cơ said.
The amount of waste is constantly increasing every day, but it is not effectively managed, screened and recycled, which causes a waste of resources, as well as pollution, health, economic and social impacts.
Meanwhile, many projects collecting, screening and recycling waste have failed, disappointing many people.
In Hà Nội, the average amount of solid waste is 1.21kg per person per day collected from households, of which plastic accounts for 17 per cent, equal to 0.21kg per person per day.
These undesirable figures have made the Hà Nội authorities implement many measures to improve the environment via waste classification and treatment.
However, many projects, such as the 3R project and waste treatment plants, had failed, badly affecting the city's common goal.
The waste treatment plant of Thành Quang Investment Joint Stock Company in Phương Đình Commune of Đan Phượng District is an example.
The plant has a capacity of 200 tonnes per day and uses more than four hectares of acquired farmland but has stopped operation for three years.
Thành Quang Company also invested in a solid waste treatment project in Đông Anh, which was planned to start in 2017. But it has not yet been opened because the company is submitting a request to supplement the treatment of hazardous industrial and medical waste.
Meanwhile, in the districts of Ba Vì, Mỹ Đức, Ứng Hòa and Phú Xuyên, many waste treatment zones have been planned but not yet constructed or are behind schedule because capacity is not consistent with the current technological and urban development direction of the city.
Large projects, which consume money and land but are not effective, decrease people's willingness to screen waste at home.
"The informal collection of scraps and waste is going on every day. However, no one could tell whether that recyclable waste goes right into the recycling system or not. This situation strongly affects the confidence of millions of people, making them unenthusiastic about joining hands in environmental protection," said Nguyễn Thị Thu Trang, director of the Local Solution for Plastic Pollution project. — VNS