Vietnam Community-based Municipal Solid Waste

Part 1 – Community-based Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Management and resource cycling in Cu Lao Cham Island – Material Recovery Facility (MRF) initiative.

Nguyen Thi My Quynh (WWF Vietnam), Huynh Thi Thuy Huong (Management Board of Cu Lao Cham Marine Protected Area)

Cu Lao Cham Island (Hoi An City, Quang Nam Province) is one of the pioneer localities in implementing waste separation at source (WSAS) very early – since 2009. A lot of efforts and investments of local government and non-profit projects have been implemented to train local people in the habit of separating waste at source. During the initial period of implementation, the WSAS program has brought many positive results, attracting the participation of local people. However, in fact, in recent years, the effectiveness of the WSAS program has decreased over time. Inadequate waste treatment at Eo Gio Landfill are the main reasons leading to the lack of motivation for many households to carry out proper waste classification, domestic solid waste has not been treated thoroughly. The rate of improper waste treatment has been increasing, causing negative impacts on the environment and ecosystems in the World Biosphere Reserve of Cu Lao Cham – Hoi An.

Under this situation, the People’s Committee of Tan Hiep Commune and the Management Board of Cu Lao Cham Marine Protected Area have coordinated to pilot Material Recovery Facility in Cu Lao Cham – a pilot model of community-based solid waste recycling and classification.

What is Material Recovery Facility – MRF?

Simply, MRF is a site where the recycling and reuse of natural resources from waste takes place, with the objective of minimising waste released to the environment. MRF facilities include recycling plants, waste treatment centres, and renewable energy production facilities. Usually, each MRF facility will be in charge of the waste treatment of several households in the area. Domestic waste from households, after being classified, will be collected at the MRF site. In this site, organic waste will be separated for the microbial fertiliser process. All high-value and low-value recyclables are recycled or sold as scrap, and the remaining waste will be transported to a centralised treatment facility for burning or landfilling. 

On Cu Lao Cham Island, the model of MRF was implemented with the support of the Mitigating marine plastic debris in Vietnam project, the Global Incinerator Alliance (GAIA) and the Pacific Environment towards the goal of improving the rate of sorting and recycling at source, contributing to the circulation of resources from MSW into valuable products by promoting the role and encourage community participation in the local solid waste management system. MRF can contribute to reducing the pressure of receiving and treating MSW at Eo Gio, and minimising negative impacts on the environment and ecosystem in Cu Lao Cham, towards building Cu Lao Cham into a “zero-waste island”. 

How was the first MRF model in Cu Lao Cham established?

The first MRF model in Cu Lao Cham was established near the residential zone of Bai Ong village with an area of ​​about 20m2, covered by the roof and wall made from recycled plastic plywood sheets from low-value plastic waste. This aligns with the core value of the MRF as a waste-to-resource facility. The MRF includes some areas: composting, detergent production, inorganic waste collection, decorated with communication panels and planted trees around. The model was put into trial operation from April 1, 2021. From July 1, 2021, Tan Hiep Commune People’s Committee officially accepts to operate the Bai Ong MRF model with technical and financial support from the Project of Mitigating marine plastic debris in Vietnam, funded by WWF.

How does the MRF model work?

Beginning with the participation of 30 households to pilot and finalise the operation process by October 2021, the Bai Ong MRF facility has expanded to receive and process the waste of 60 households, then continued to grow to 120 households from December 2022. Participating in the model, local households separated their daily waste into two types: easy-to-decompose and not-easy-to-decompose waste. To ensure that waste is appropriately classified at the source, the project has supported the local core group to carry out weekly monitoring, strengthen the guidance for households to participate in the waste classification model and dispose of garbage in the right place and at the right time.

Municipal waste from households, after sorting, is collected by two local workers in charge of operating the MRF model. Then, biodegradable waste is sorted into dry waste for outdoor composting; wet waste is put into compost bins with probiotics. Aerobic composting is used as the most common composting method. From November 2022, MRF Bai Ong piloted additional anaerobic and earthworm composting methods. In addition, some types of fruit peels are separated and reused to make multi-purpose cleaning detergent. Non-degradable waste is sorted into recyclable waste (which can be sold to scrap collectors), low-grade plastic waste is collected to be sent to a recycling facility, and the remaining waste that cannot be treated will be transferred to the waste treatment facility at Eo Gio.

The initial result of the MRF model

The monitoring data shows that the percentage of households that strictly comply with the regulations on waste separation at source has increased significantly. In the middle of 2020, when there was no MRF model, the percentage of households sorting garbage in Bai Ong village was 70%. By mid-2021, after being guided to participate in the MRF model, this rate increased to nearly 82% in the group of households participating in MRF. After the number of participating households increased to 120 in December 2022, the rate of proper waste classification increased even higher and reached 84.5%. 

Proper waste classification is essential for effective treatment and recycling at MRF Bai Ong. Accordingly, after two years of implementation, the model has collected 27.4 tons of domestic waste from households, of which more than 12.6 tons of organic waste are classified and treated at the MRF, and about 200kg of recyclable waste and 500kg of low-value plastic waste were collected. Thus, the MRF has reduced nearly 50% of household waste with on-site treatment solutions.

By the end of 2022, MRF Bai Ong facility has produced about 500kg of organic fertiliser from the collected organic waste. This source of organic fertiliser is effectively used to care for ornamental plants in the area. The remaining part of organic fertiliser is distributed to households in need. After a period of use, the organic fertiliser product from MRF Bai Ong has been trusted by some other households in the commune.

Another by-product from organic waste treatment at the MRF is an all-purpose cleaner. From the discarded fruit peels collected in 2022, the MRF facility operations team sorted and fermented them into 220L of raw probiotics. To produce biological cleaning products from raw fermented products, the ‘Mitigating Marine Plastic Debris in Vietnam’ Project has supported the Management Board of Cu Lao Cham Marine Protected Area to organise a training program on upgrading cleaning products at MRF Bai Ong in November 2022. Through the training program, experts have specifically guided the process of manufacturing detergents and choosing input materials to limit odours and create fragrances from natural ingredients such as fragrant peels, oranges, grapefruit, lemongrass, … They also provided practical recipes and tips on preserving products for the community team operating the MRF. Since then, the MRF operation team has successfully produced 40L of cleaning water from 220L of the raw solution to give to stakeholders and households for trial use. According to the initial assessment, the households participating in the trial said that the product is suitable for daily use, concentrated, fragrant, foaming and gentle on hand skin.

Composting at the MRF model. (Photo: WWF-Viet Nam)

The Resource Recovery Facility (MRF) also receives much attention from the local community. In 2022, the facility welcomed 12 working delegations from other regions, international students and local students in Hoi An and Da Nang cities to visit and learn about the model. From the initially hired workers, the MRF Bai Ong operation team has been able to directly instruct others on how to operate the model and actively and proactively spread to everyone about waste treatment and reduction methods at the facility. These are positive signals, showing that the model has the potential to develop into an environmental education and learning centre.

Read Part 2 – From the “Material Recovery Facility” initiative to the “Center for Development of Community Initiative and Environment” in Cu Lao Cham. 

This article was based on this original article in Vietnamese.

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