1. Pollution by plasticsPlastics are everywhere because they are cheap and so convenient. But they do not disappear easily and Vietnam is reportedly one of the biggest polluters.
Mekong Quilts, our social enterprise, also uses a lot of plastic bags because we could not find an alternative yet. Till recently we used so called “biodegradable” plastic which are 10% more expensive for us. We have since returned to ordinary plastic, as the biodegradable are doing more harm than good unless processed properly –which we cannot guarantee.
Pollution is everywhere, degrading the landscapes and the rivers. A few years ago the Mekong Plus projects encouraged the children to reduce the use of plastic and once a year, to collect all plastic wastes in the villages. Huge quantities were brought to the primary schools, which would sell them with a little profit: these funds would allow the schools to do minor repairs etc. However the selling price has dropped since and the project has become unsustainable financially. The children have stopped collecting plastic wastes… a step backwards.
Today Mekong Plus continues to inform & train in schools (over 100.000 children covered), various villagers’ groups etc.
2. Recycling?Mekong Plus is interested in contributing to improve the environment, and looks for possible “gaps” in the current waste disposal and plastic recycling, where we could play some role.
We have visited a few places:
Ninh Sơn (Ninh Thuận province. See (44”) https://studio.youtube.com/video/1rcpNkb01Fc/edit . The collector earns 40K within 2-3 hours. She knows what to collect or not. She drives a few km to a collection centre, which processes tons of plastic waste every week, sorted and shipped to a recycling plant in Phan Rang (40km). The collection centre is keen to process more waste, its radius of operations is only about 5km today. Another centre is running just 2km away. They ship their products to HCMC where they claim to get a better price.
Another location: O Môn (Mekong delta). See (3’15”): https://studio.youtube.com/video/-CFRg1FBxsk/edit The O Môn plant is a family enterprise, profitable for more than 10 years. It owns 3 trucks, one of the brothers has built a nice villa… They process & sell 10 tons of pellets/day; they buy the waste from 3 provinces: people call and they send their trucks. There is a new (June 2019) factory built by a Chinese company not far away, which incinerates all waste, no sorting, no recycling. Another smaller company has also opted for incineration in Kinh Cùng (Hâu Giang province). There is some competition between the collectors, and the brothers running the O Môn plant declared clearly they would be happy to process more waste; they also speculate on the price they can get for their pellets.
One of their suppliers is the dumping/sorting plant in Long Mỹ (see the above clip). It is a government enterprise; the O Môn company has a long term contract with them (and made an advance payment to secure the contract). The workers are paid by the company and get additional income by sorting & selling the plastic wastes.
As Mekong Plus operates in the region, 4 districts within a radius of about 30km, we are confident that collectors rove around all villages and buy plastic waste at prices of 1,5-5K depending on the sort and quality. They bring it then to the dumping/sorting plant.
There seems to be a trend towards incineration/electricity production instead of sorting/recycling. we would like to know if incineration is done at a high enough temperature so that it would not generate dangerous gases (>800 degrees C?); and what about the residues: are these toxic, and how much volume are they?
3. What could we do?Mekong Plus is a small NGO, we do not have the necessary industrial and commercial capacity to proceed alone, however we can probably access funding to support developing a partnership with enterprises, when the environmental and social dimensions are well taken into account. We are looking at various options but they must be financially sustainable.
We hope that such a project could increase the value of plastic waste, thus encouraging people to clean their environment; while at the same time provide cheap and quality materials.
A priori we would prefer to recycle plastics in a cheap way, not necessitating expensive sophisticated equipment, and to produce cheap products, probably construction materials like bricks, tiles, panels etc. Mekong Plus operates in poor rural regions and marketing in those regions would be preferred to ship recycled waste to far away urban areas.
The different options today:
Plasticpeople (HCM) has shown interest in buying plastic flakes, however volumes and prices, as well as a guarantee for a long term contract remain to be seen. We work with many schools and maybe we could motivate them to collect plastic waste & cooperate with collectors so that they could collect more of the waste. However prices are low are it remains to be seen whether we could convince the schools to join the program. Open a small workshop in Long Mỹ (because the authorities in Hậu Giang province are very supportive) to sort/wash/shred and use flakes/pellets to produce sticks. Till now the sticks are too slack to be used as an alternative to wood for furniture or construction. The cost is maybe not competitive compared to low quality wood (25K>15K for a 2,5mx2,5cmx2,5cm stick). We are working with a local carpenter to check this option. Same as (3) but to make bricks. We have also looked at mixing cement with EPS waste (after shredding) but again there seems to be no savings in sight. We are still trying to check these calculations. There is an argument that once plastic waste (only EPS or other waste as well?) is mixed with cement, then it can no longer be recycled otherwise. But we should maybe take into account the production of cement is very polluting (https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-india-50522972/how-to-make-cement-more-climate-friendly ), and if bricks can be made with 30-40% cement only, then this is a step in the right direction. But again we must check the cost of such bricks and total costs of construction as maybe such bricks would need less labor (thanks to their larger size). We have read about http://conceptosplasticos.com/ for example. They make “lego tyupe” bricks only with plastic waste; see also https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/25/asia/plastiqube-brick-india-scn-intl-c2e/index.html . They claim to build houses for 30% cheaper. Our calculations in Vietnam till now, do not show any reduction in costs, on the contrary. I see a few postings claiming the contrary: it is cheaper. If so I need the formulas & details, so we could try here as well.
Bernard KERVYN, 06/12/19
Note: K=000. 40K (VNĐ the Vietnamese currency)= 1,7$
@bernard-kervynmekongplus-org Thank you for posting. I think one of the underutilized capabilities of this forum is to collect information on the status of plastic trash around the world
Do you know which of the plastics have enough value for the collector/sorter? Our part of the US ships/sells our collected recyclables to places like Vietnam. I was wondering how much of that is not worth the effort for the sorters and gets dumped. If lets say 10-20% of what we send is unused and gets dumped or burned as trash then our recycling program may be doing more harm than good.
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