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Volume-based waste fee: international experience and recommendations for Việt Nam

21/12/2020

    Article 79 of the Draft Law on Environmental Protection (LEP) (amended) stipulates “Households and individuals shall be responsible for paying part of the costs for collection, transportation and treatment of domestic solid wastes according to the generated volume”, instead of the current fee per capita or household. However, many opinions were concerned about the feasibility of the volume-based waste fee (VBWF). Experience of implementing the VBWF in the world, especially the experience of the US and South Korea is one of the “good examples” of successful implementation of the VBWF with some lessons for the process of policy development and implementation in Việt Nam.

General experience in terms of VBWF

    The VBWF is an economic instrument in environmental management - a policy that stipulates people, households and agencies/organizations that generate wastes similar to household wastes must pay a fee according to the type of wastes and the volume of wastes they actually discharge.

    Domestic solid wastes (also called wastes) generated from the above sources are classified into categories such as: recyclable solid wastes; food wastes; bulky wastes; conventional domestic solid wastes. Households, individuals and organizations that generate domestic solid wastes must carry out the classification according to regulations and buy specialized bags and packages designed by the management agencies to store each type of wastes.

    Specialized bags and packages have different sizes from small to large, suitable for the needs of more or less wastes to be discharged of each household, individual or organization. Bulky wastes (such as wooden furniture, dining tables, kitchen pots...), which cannot be stored in specialized bags, must be stamped for collection - also stipulated by the management agencies.

    Waste collection and transportation units and organizations have the right to refuse to collect and transport for households, individuals and organizations that do not classify wastes, and do not put wastes into the correct packages as regulations or bulky wastes are not properly stamped for collection. Such waste discharge violations are even sanctioned in accordance with the legal provisions.

   The fee for waste discharge is included in the selling price for collection bags or stamps. Households, individuals or organizations that discharge a lot of wastes will have to pay more because they have to buy more bags, buy bigger bags or more expensive stamps. Therefore, they will consider reducing wastes and classifying wastes for reuse, so that they have to pay the least.

    Such volume and type-based waste fee applied in many countries such as Australia, the US, South Korea, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany and Europe, China, Taiwan... created an economic incentive to encourage the reduction of the volume of wastes, thereby reducing the negative impacts on society due to waste landfilling or incineration activities, contributing to promoting the recycling and reuse of wastes. On the other hand, the purchase of waste packages or waste collection stamps is to pay part or all of the costs for domestic solid waste collection, transportation and treatment, in accordance with the “polluter pays” principle, contributing to reducing the burden and reliance on the state budget for waste management.

Experience in the United States

    The VBWF has been implemented since 1973 in Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second largest city. By the period 1998 - 2008, the number of localities in the US implementing the VBWF increased by 70%. In 2011, about 30 out of the 100 largest cities with about 25% of the population in the US implemented the VBWF policy. Thanks to the economic incentive of the VBWF program, the volume of wastes to be treated has decreased by an average of 17%, the recycling and compost production rate increased accordingly. The newly applied fee rate usually offsets about 30-40% of the costs of collecting, transporting and treating wastes and will increase gradually in the following years. VBWF policy is also adjusted to suit the collection infrastructure and specific conditions of cities.

Table 1: VBWF implementation in some US cities

Place

Starting year

Bag /trash type and fee rate

Benefit

Wastes reduced

Recycling rate increased

Grand Rapids, state of Michigan

1973

3 USD/

32-gallon bag

28%,

from 32,197 to 23,052 tons

(2006 - 2013)

76%,

from 5,958 to 10,508 tons (2006 - 2013)

Sandwich, state of Massachusetts

2012

0.25 USD/

8-gallon bag

0.60 USD /

15-gallon bag

1.20 USD/

30-gallon bag

42% (2012 - 2013)

From 29% to 54% (recycled cans, plastic products, glass bottles increased 74%; paper and carton packages increased by 20%)

San Jose,

state of California

1993

29 USD/

20-gallon barrel

31 USD/

32-gallon barrel

62 USD/

64-gallon barrel

93 USD/

96-gallon barrel

21% (1993-2014); aiming to reduce landfill area by 50% by 2020

From 33% to 45% (1993 - 2014)

Binghamton, New York

1991

1.35 USD/

30-gallon bag

0.75 USD/

20-gallon bag

0.5 USD/

10-gallon bag

42.8% (1990-2008)

Landfill costs reduced by 34.6%

41.2% (1990-2008)

 

 

Source: Compiled from John Abrashkin (2015), Columbia University

    New York is the most populous city in the US with about 9 million people, generating about 14 million tons of solid wastes/year. Applying VBWF since 2015, waste bags are priced at 2 USD/30-gallon bag, 3 USD/45-gallon bag that can be purchased online and at retail locations in the city. Building owners can sign up for the VBWF program online through an account linked to a database maintained by the Department of Design and Construction that keeps track of information about each order and bag consumption of the building. Registered building owners will receive a 10% discount on all bags, posters and communication materials for the residents of the VBWF program. Through an application on a tablet mounted in a collection vehicle, the Municipal Department of Public Works can extract information about any violation and send a warning letter /email to building owners. Progressive fines apply as: 25 USD for the first violation, 50 USD for the second time and 100 USD for the third time and 500 USD for the fourth time within 6 months. The VBWF program has helped the City reduce 10 - 13% of the wastes, increase the recycling rate by 5-6% and save about 145 million USD/year for waste collection and treatment. Across the City, waste bag sales also generate new revenue of up to 550 million USD/year, meeting about 43% of the annual budget of the Environmental Sanitation Agency, offsetting for the waste collection and treatment costs previously had to come from property taxes. Thus, political responses to new fees are also reduced.

Experience in South Korea

    South Korea used to encounter many serious problems of waste collection and treatment, the volume of wastes generated was quite large and not classified at source for reuse and recycling. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the country made a lot of communication efforts to guide people to classify wastes at source, facilitating recycling and reducing the need for treatment and disposal. However, over the course of about 5 years, this has been almost ineffective because people did not see any benefits, especially economic benefits due to the policy of collecting fixed average fee per household regardless of the volume of wastes.

Preparation

    South Korea officially applied VBWF on a nationwide scale for domestic wastes since 1995. Previously, the country had more than 3 years of preparation, feasibility study and piloting in major cities and regions and densely populated areas in rural areas. The preparation work has been done fairly methodically. The Government endeavored to solve the problems that arise during the pilot phase, required local authorities to take effective measures to respond to the rapidly increasing demand for waste recycling. South Korea has also extended the time limit for the collection of wastes for landfill, allocated human resources to cope with the volume of landfilled wastes increased dramatically right before the implementation of the new VBWF policy. Through the media and advertising programs, the Government has provided a detailed list of the waste types and where those can be disposed.

Implementation methods

    The payment method is done through the sales of waste collection bags and stamps, with prices depending on the conditions of each locality, district but not much difference. At first there were only two types of bags, recyclable and non-recyclable. After 15 years, non-recyclable bags are separated into regular bags and food waste bags. There are many different sizes of bags to meet the more or less waste needs of households, individuals and organizations.

Table 2: Sizes of waste bags in South Korea

 

Bag type

Bag volume (liters)

Bag materials

1

Regular bag

3, 5, 10, 20, 30, 50, 75, 100

HDPE, LLPE, Calcium Carbonate, biodegradable bag (AP + starch / HDPE or AP + starch / LLPE)

2

Reusable bag

3, 5, 10, 20, 30

3

Bag in public places

30, 50, 100

4

Food waste bag

1, 2, 3, 5

Source: South Korea Ministry of Environment (2016), VBWF Implementation Guide

    The price of waste bags in 1995 was about 6 cents/5-liter bag; 11 cents/10-liter bag; 21 cents/20-liter bag; 51 cents /50-liter bag, offsetting about 40% of the total costs of collecting, transporting and treating wastes, the state compensated for the remaining 60%. The price is adjusted over time, up to now about twice as high as the price issued in 1995, meeting 60 - 70% of the total costs of collection, transportation and treatment, depending on each locality. Household items and bulky items such as tables, chairs, wardrobes, floor mats... are stamped to be collected with a fee ranging from 10 to 20 USD/unit.

    Since 2013, food wastes are charged by weight to encourage people to limit the volume of water in the wastes, making the process of collecting and transporting these wastes more hygienic. Food waste weighing tools are also being equipped more and more, especially in densely populated apartments.

Results and efficiency

    In terms of environment, the VBWF program in South Korea reduced the total volume of domestic wastes by about 14%, from 58,118 tons /day in 1994 to 49,915 tons /day in 2014. The volume of wastes per capita decreased by 29%, from 1.33kg /day in 1994 to 0.95kg /day in 2014. The volume of food wastes mixed with other types of wastes was 31.6% in 1994, it fell to only 2.1% in 2014.

Table 3: Volume of domestic wastes in South Korea over the years

 

1994

1995

1996

2000

2005

2010

2014

Average volume of wastes (kg /person/day)

1.33

1.07

1.11

0.98

0.99

0.97

0.95

Total volume (tons/day)

58,118

47,774

49,925

46,438

48,398

49,159

49,195

Source: South Korea Environmental Policy Bulletin (2016)

    The volume of wastes recycled in 2004 was 2.8 times higher than that of 1995 (increased from 8,927 tons/day to 24,588 tons/day). The proportion of wastes recycled increased from 15.4% in 1994 to 59% in 2014, while the proportion of wastes landfilled decreased from 81.2% to 15.7%. The reduced volume of wastes also helped minimize pollution problem caused by leachate from landfill sites, by incineration of wastes and reduce land resource consumption for the purpose of building new landfill sites.

   In terms of economy, the benefits from saving on waste treatment costs and from selling recycled products increased from 19.6 trillion won (17.8 billion USD) in 1995 to 21.4 trillion won (19.5 billion USD) in 2013. In 1995, a total of 1.59 billion waste bags were sold nationwide. This number decreased rapidly by 43% in the next 4 years, to 913.34 million bags in 1998. Currently the number of bags sold remains at an average of 939.18 million bags/year.

    In terms of society, efficient and sustainable use of resources, waste classification for reuse, recycling has gradually become a habit, a cultural feature of most Korean people. Nearly 90% of respondents said that they feel comfortable and not bothered with the sorting of wastes.

Existing problems

    The biggest problem in the VBWF program in South Korea is not disposing wastes in the correct types and illegal burning. Many families did not use specialized collection bags, but use other types of bags, evade surveillance cameras at collection points, or dump trash on unattended vacant land. To overcome this situation, local governments requested not to collect trash bags of the wrong types, so that these waste disposal areas became dirty. Therefore, communities there must have a self-monitoring mechanism to prevent illegal discharge of wastes. Although the number of violations has decreased significantly from 1,091,849 cases in 1995 to 287,404 cases in 2014, this is still a problem that needs to be resolved.

Lessons learnt and recommendations

    Reducing, classifying for reuse and recycling (3R) of wastes is a common trend of a civilized, environmentally friendly and sustainable development society. The Draft LEP (amended) stipulates the VBWF which is appropriate and necessary for Việt Nam. From the experience of other countries, in order for VBWF to receive the support of the people and come into practice soon, we need:

First, to have a careful preparation of policies, infrastructure, feasibility studies and pilot activities before they can be officially implemented;

Second, to create consensus between the authorities and people on the basis of good multi-dimensional communication. The way to collect and to use the fee, the way to classify wastes... should be fully guided for people and households;

Third, to study to stipulate the appropriate fee rates. The fee rates should be high enough to encourage waste reduction, but not too high that may create a financial burden on households. The fee rates applied abroad are often adjusted to match inflation and socio-economic conditions;

Fourth, to apply appropriate sanctions and penalties for non-compliance. In South Korea, offenders can be fined up to 900 USD if they do not dispose wastes with waste bags in accordance with regulations. Cameras are installed at waste collection points and elsewhere to control violations.

Fifth, to set up a consistent system of collection, transportation and treatment. People will lose their belief in the system if their wastes are sorted at home but then thrown together in waste collection trucks.

Sixth, to adjust the provisions in the Draft LEP (amended), only stated as “according to the volume generated” but not “weight” in order to avoid the misunderstanding that many people have to weigh their wastes, causing unnecessary controversy. Also explain more specifically as the fee is calculated by volume or unit of wastes.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Lê Thu Hoa

Faculty of Environment, Climate Change and Urban Studies

National Economics University

(Nguồn: Bài đăng trên Tạp chí Môi trường số Chuyên đề Tiếng Anh III/2020)

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