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White pollution worsens
Son Nguyen
Thursday,  Jun 7, 2018,19:46 (GMT+7)

White pollution worsens

Son Nguyen

The topic of white pollution is not a major issue in the media in a week flooded with articles about the ongoing National Assembly discussions, but it still stirs up grave concerns in society after a conference this Monday in Binh Dinh Province revealed highly-menacing data. The conference, jointly organized by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and Binh Dinh Province’s government, is in response to the World Environment Day, with this year’s theme simply put: “Beat plastic pollution.” As revealed at the conference, the crisis is further worsening.

A report from the United Nations given at the conference unveils how worrying the pollution caused by plastic utensils, especially plastic bags, is becoming. In a single minute, the world consumes one million plastic bottles; in a year, the world consumes five billion single-use plastic bags, according to Vietnamplus. The scary fact is that such plastic bottles and bags are not properly treated, as each year, the world discharges 300 million tons of plastic waste, accounting for some 10% of all solid waste, putting the environment and human health under tenterhooks, according to the news site.

The conference also drew attention to another fact: “For a plastic bag that can be used for five minutes, it takes five seconds to produce, one second to discard, but 500 to 1,000 years to become totally decomposed,” says Vietnamplus.

In another message given by the UN General Secretary and delivered at the conference, it is reported that since more than eight million tons of plastic bags end up in the oceans each year, “microplastics in the seas now outnumber stars in our galaxy.”

“If present trends continue, by 2050 our oceans will have more plastic than fish,” Dan Tri reports, quoting Caitlin Wiesen, country director of the UN Development Programme in Vietnam.

These above-mentioned fearful facts, however, are not merely global issues, but domestic problems as well, according to local media. Many local news outlets, when relating data from the conference, point out that white pollution – a term used to indicate the overwhelming discharge of plastic bags into the environment – is even getting worse in Vietnam than elsewhere.

“Data shows that in Vietnam, each family consumes around one kilo of plastic bags a month. Hanoi and HCMC in particular discharge around 80 tons of plastic waste in a single day on average,” says Lao Dong.

In fact, administration agencies in many localities nationwide have seen huge impact of plastic waste on the environment, and have suggested measures to cope with the problem. The HCMC government, for example, has set the target of reducing the amount of plastic bags by 65% at supermarkets and other modern shopping venues in the city, and by 50% at traditional markets, according to Sai Gon Giai Phong. The municipal government also targets to have half of plastic bags recycled to minimize the adverse impact on the environment.

However, measures to realize the targets have largely been limited to propaganda aimed to raise public awareness of the negative effects of using non-degradable plastic bags. Recently, authorities of the city’s District 1 have issued over 1,000 brochures on the topic to traders at traditional markets, while District 2 and District 4 governments have organized seminars to change the behaviors of communities in using such items, says Sai Gon Giai Phong.

The behaviors still stay put, as seen at the rampant, free distribution of plastic bags at markets and shopping malls across the city.

In an article in Tuoi Tre, a reader relates how she observes plastic bags being given free at all supermarkets and convenience stores. “Along each shelf, there are always rolls of plastic bags at the shopper’s disposal, and at the cashier’s counter, numerous large-size plastic bags are also readily available for customers,” says the reader and author on the paper.

And all such plastic bags will soon be discharged into the environment.

News website Kinhtedothi says that plastic waste accounts for 7% to 8% of solid waste transported by a company named Urenco to Nam Son landfill in Hanoi City. Also according to the news site, many districts in the capital city are now overwhelmed with plastic waste. All waste pushcarts are filled with plastic bags, all places from tree stumps to pavements are littered with plastic waste, since “all shoppers go to the market bare-handed and return with plastic bags carrying the purchased items inside,” says the news site.

Meanwhile, a survey at the biggest waste treatment complex in Hanoi, which receives up to 4,500 tons of waste a day, shows that the proportion of plastic waste is on the increase, according to VTV.vn, the news site of the national Vietnam Television station. “Analysis from environment experts shows plastic bags previously accounted for 5% at the dumpsite, but the proportion has doubled to over 10% now,” says the news site.

Evidencing the high risks caused by plastic bags to the environment, VTV.vn reports that when digging up a batch of waste buried 20 years ago at the dumpsite, all the plastic bags remain intact.

Vietnam is suffering from severe plastic bag pollution, as it is among four Asian countries discarding the largest volume of plastic bags, Tien Phong newspaper reports, citing experts from the aforesaid conference. Citing Dang Kim Chi, a leading expert in solid waste, the paper says that with more than 30 billion plastic bags discarded per year, Vietnam annually discharges a very large volume of plastic waste, behind only China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Given the hazardous impacts by plastic waste, local media calls for tougher regulations to reduce the discharge of plastic waste into the environment.

VTV.vn says Kenya has outlawed production and consumption of plastic bags, and violators may end up being jailed for four years, plus a fine of US$38,000. The news site says several countries in Africa such as Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia have also banned plastic bags.

In Asia, many countries have followed suit. Bangladesh, for example, has banned the use of plastic bags, except for those used for export goods. Those companies found to be producing and selling plastic bags could be fined while corporate leaders of such entities could be imprisoned for up to ten years, according to Tien Phong.

Therefore, apart from propaganda and publicity programs to enhance public awareness of the grave consequences of white pollution, “there must be tougher measures for changing the habit of using plastic bags” if the white pollution is kept from worsening, says news site Kinhtedothi.

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