Waste treatment in Việt Nam is still a difficulty to meet practical requirements. After significant efforts to find suitable solutions for waste treatment, up to now, landfill of domestic solid waste still accounts for a high proportion, about 70% compared to other methods. The question for the future is which policies and mechanisms should be applied so that waste is no longer an obsession for occupying land, causing many environmental and social problems?
The goal to be achieved is that solid waste becomes an input material for economic activities. From the experience of countries around the world and the practice in Việt Nam, the most effective approach is to encourage the application of the circular economy (CE) model instead of the "linear economy" model to solve the waste problem.
Waste generated in the economic system
In terms of physical form, the economic system receives inputs from natural resources in the natural environment through production into goods for consumption. Thus, waste is basically generated in two stages: post-production and post-consumption. With the "linear economy" model, post-production and post-consumption waste is ultimately discharged into the natural environment. This is an outdated economic model, causing damages to natural resources and the environment. The CE model focuses on post-production and post-consumption waste that will be recovered and put back as inputs for economic activities.
With the CE model, waste will be reused, recycled and not released into the environment. However, to implement waste reuse and recycling, it is necessary to prepare from the stage of design for production to consumption to reuse waste but taking the criterion of economic efficiency as the main basis on principles of the market.
From the perspective of economic activities based on the principle of material balance, the flow of waste in the economic system is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Flow of waste in the economic activity
Source: Barry C. Field, 1994
From the generalization of Barry C. Field's version, it shows that to improve the efficiency and sustainability of economic activities for the natural environment, the economic system must exploit and use efficiently raw input resources from the natural environment and minimize waste from economic activities to the environment. To do so, waste must be reused and recycled. This can be done based on the principles of dynamics, the Law of conservation of matter and energy, the practicality of economic activities. The following balanced equation shows more clearly:
M = Rpd + Rcd (according to the symbols in Figure 1)
Substitute M according to the flow of matter as follows:
Rpd + Rcd = M = G + Rp - Rpr - Rcr
That is, the quantity of raw materials from the natural environment (M) equals to the output of goods (G) plus post-production waste (Rp) minus the total recirculated amount of the manufacturing activity (Rpr) and consumption (Rcr).
There are 3 main ways to reduce M including:
First, reducing G means reducing the quantity of goods produced, which is not possible because it will reduce economic growth.
Second, reducing Rp means reducing post-production waste. Basically, there are only 2 ways to do this: research, manufacture and apply new technologies and equipment to production to generate less waste per unit of finished product, called as reducing the "waste intensity" of production. In fact, much can be done to reduce the CO2 intensity in the production of energy input to produce a unit of product… The second way is to change the internal composition of the product. Product G now includes many different goods and services, between which there is a large difference in the waste generated in the production process. Therefore, to reduce the total amount of waste, it is necessary to change the composition and service method of G in the direction of increasing the life of G, designing the waste to be reduced as much as possible after production. The shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy is a step in this direction.
Third, increasing (Rpr + Rcr) means that instead of releasing production and consumption waste into the environment, the waste is recirculated, returning to the production process. Thanks to recirculation, we can replace part of the original flow of untapped materials (M), thereby reducing waste, while maintaining the flow of goods and services (G). In the modern economy, recirculation offers a great opportunity to reduce effluent, and to do so, it is necessary to innovate technology with no or little waste in the production process and waste recycling technology. CE is an approach to reduce M and increase (Rpr + Rcr), but still ensure to increase G in the economy. Because the nature of the CE is to reduce the exploitation of natural resources, increase the reuse and recycling of waste by designing from the beginning of the production process to the final stage and without releasing waste into the environment.
Incentive policies for the implementation of the circular economy, opportunities to solve solid waste problems in Việt Nam
In the Document of the 13th National Congress of the Communist Party of Việt Nam, the 10-year Socio-Economic Development Strategy 2021 - 2030 on directions, tasks and solutions for socio-economic development, in the seventh content: “effective management and use of resources; strengthening environmental protection and responding to climate change, preventing, combating and mitigating natural disasters" has clearly indicated "encouraging the development of a CEmodel for integrated and efficient use of the output of the production process". For solid waste, the specific task set is "the rate of reuse and recycling of domestic solid waste reaches over 65%". Thus, compared with the report of the Vietnam Environment Administration in 2019 on the assessment of the situation of waste sources, waste generation and waste source control and waste management, the rate of waste treatment by landfill is 71%, incineration is about 13%, composting and other methods is 16%. By 2030, Việt Nam needs to increase the recovery, reuse and recycling of solid waste by at least 49% to achieve the set target. With the Party's policy, in order to successfully implement the circular economy, by 2030, the target of 65% of domestic solid waste to be reused and recycled will be achieved.
In addition, in the Law on Environmental Protection (LEP) 2020, Article 142 on the circular economy, Clauses 2 and 3 stipulate that Ministries, ministerial-level agencies and provincial people's committees shall integrate the CE right from the stage of formulating development strategies, plans, programs and projects, waste management, reuse and recycling. Production, business and service establishments shall be responsible for establishing a management system and taking measures to reduce resource exploitation, reduce waste and improve the level of reuse and recycling of waste right from the project development, product and goods design to the production and distribution stage. The Government shall stipulate criteria, roadmap and mechanisms to encourage the implementation of the CE in accordance with the country's socio-economic conditions.
Currently, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) is developing and finalizing a Draft Decree detailing a number of articles of the LEP 2020 (Draft Decree) to submit to the Government. Thus, from the Party's policy to the LEP 2020, the promotion of the implementation of the CE to reduce waste into the environment has been clear to Ministries, sectors, provincial people's committees and production, business and service establishments.
Proposed solutions to reduce solid waste through implementing circular economy
In order to implement the Party's policy and legal provisions on the CE to reduce solid waste, it is necessary to implement basic solutions such as:
First, in terms of awareness, although the Document of the 13th National Congress of the Party has been issued and deployed to each Party cell, Party members have mastered the basic contents of the 10-year Socio-economic development strategy 2021 - 2030. However, in order to understand the nature of the circular economy, especially its role in waste reduction, it is necessary to continue to implement thematic dissemination in the seventh task of the Leadership Strategy and Party members. In particular, for the whole society, the transmission of the Party's policy and the LEP 2020 on the CE is the basic solution to reuse and recycle waste. This issue needs to be done right before the LEP 2020 takes effect in January 2022. The role of the press and communication channels must be further promoted, pioneering industries, sectors, businesses and localities that have been implementing the CE model should be disseminated and encouraged to replicate.
With the CE model, waste will be reused, recycled so as not to be discharged into the environment
Second, urgently complete the contents specified in clauses 2 and 3 of Article 142 of the LEP 2020 to include in the Decree detailing a number of articles of the Law. Specifically, for the provisions in Clause 2, it is necessary to review and consider the provisions already related to the content of this Clause, to avoid duplication and overlapping. On the other hand, for provisions on requirements for implementation to plans and programs of Ministries, ministerial-level agencies and provincial people's committees, this is a very important content, there should be specific guidance in the Decree on integrated implementation mechanism so that it is feasible.
As for the provisions in Clause 3, it is necessary to detail in the provisions of the Decree to encourage production, business and service establishments to implement the CE model to replace the current "linear economy" model. Provisions related to Clause 3 need to be linked with other provisions that have been encouraged in some other laws such as the Law on Investment, the Law on Land, the Law on Enterprises... Therefore, the review of the provisions of these laws is very important to avoid overlapping or inconsistencies. However, with the content of the CE in clause 3 focusing on reducing and improving the level of waste reuse and recycling, it is necessary to strengthen new regulations by encouraging production, business and service establishments to implement.
For clause 4, provisions on criteria and implementation roadmap suitable to the country's socio-economic development conditions, in which, it is necessary to stipulate general criteria to determine production and business and service models under the CE as a basis for prioritizing development. On the basis of general criteria, for specific fields, there should be separate criteria according to waste groups in accordance with provisions on waste in other articles of the LEP 2020.
In addition, in the Draft Decree, the implementation roadmap should be specified for types of solid waste based on the list of solid waste classification, compared with production, business and service establishments generating that type of waste to determine which types need to implement the CE model immediately, and which takes time (For example, for organic waste from dairy farms, pig raising and chicken raising... The CE model can be implemented immediately; or the facilities that generate metal waste, plastic waste, glass waste, …also need to be implemented immediately, in order to gradually switch to the CE model before 2025). For waste such as e-waste, toxic waste…, it takes time and preparation of capital to invest in new technology, so the implementation of the CE model needs a longer roadmap for the production, business and service establishment to transform.
Third, in order to implement the provisions of Article 142, LEP 2020, on the transformation and development of the CE model in waste reduction, reuse and recycling, it is necessary to prepare right now a team of experts with knowledge, expertise, understanding of the contents of the CE, as well as the implementation of the CE model. Specifically, in the Ministries, ministerial-level agencies and the People's Committees of the provinces, those implementing development strategies, master plans, plans, programs and projects; waste management, reuse and recycling must have adequate knowledge of the CE. For production, business and service establishments, it is necessary to have trained technicians with enhanced capacity, and update knowledge about the CE for implementation in the coming time. For the production establishments that have implemented cleaner production, continue to develop the CE model at their own establishments.
Fourth, the CE has begun to be legalized and implemented in Việt Nam, so it needs international support, initially in terms of experts, financial resources and experience to develop decrees and relevant regulations, policies and laws. Especially, access to the successful lessons of the countries that have implemented the CE model that can be applied in Việt Nam to research, learn and follow in the coming time.
In the current conditions, to reduce, reuse and recycle waste through the implementation of the CE model, it is necessary to concretize the provisions in the Decree issued by the Government, to guide the Ministries, ministerial-level agencies, people's committees of provinces, production, business and service establishments to implement. Along with that is the preparation of internal resources in terms of knowledge, capacity, financial resources and calling for international support.
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyễn Thế Chinh
Former Director General
MSc. Nguyễn Thế Thông
Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources and Environment
(Source: Vietnam Environment Administration Magazine, English Edition III - 2021)
MONRE, Vietnam Environment Administration. “Report on Assess of the situation of waste sources, waste generation and control of waste sources, waste management”. Hà Nội, December 2019.
Communist Party of Việt Nam. Document of the 13th National Congress of the Communist Party of Việt Nam, Volume I. "10-year Socio-Economic Development Strategy 2021-2030". National Political Publishing House of Việt Nam. Hà Nội, 2021.
Nguyễn Thế Chinh. Journal of Environmental Economics ISSN 1859-1906, issue 171, December 2020. “Development of the CEin Việt Nam, opportunities, challenges and recommendations”.