Monday,  Dec 10, 2018,03:38 (GMT+7) 0 0
A new dumping ground?
By Phuong Thao
Saturday,  Aug 4, 2018,17:30 (GMT+7)

A new dumping ground?

By Phuong Thao

The environmental pollution threat is looming larger than ever as the nation is struggling with a huge influx of scrap from other countries. Backlogs of scrap containers have piled up at seaports across the country, posing a tough question for environment authorities on how to deal with the unwanted garbage.

The volume of second-hand products imported into Vietnam has skyrocketed in recent times. In 2016, Vietnam imported more than 4.8 million tons of scrap such as iron, steel, plastic and paper. But the figure jumped to more than 6.5 million tons last year and reached as high as four million tons in the first half of this year alone.

January-June plastic waste imports amounted to 277,700 tons, way above the 245,800 tons imported in all of 2016. The total value of imported scrap was put at US$1.2 billion in the year to end-June, higher than the US$1 billion recorded in all of 2016. As of July 25, a staggering 3,600 scrap shipping containers had been left unattended for over 90 days at the Cat Lai Port in HCMC alone and around 1,500 others at the Haiphong Port in the northern city of Haiphong. Most of these containers carry expired animal viscera, plastic, metallic waste and used clothes.

Customs authorities attributed the unusually strong scrap imports to China’s suspension of 24 types of scrap imports. Countries that had previously exported scrap to China, such as the United States, Japan, South Korea, Canada, and even those from Northern Europe, have diverted their scrap shipments to other destinations, which include Vietnam. According to Vnexpress news website, Japan and the U.S. emerged as the two biggest exporters of scrap to Vietnam in the first six months of this year. One-fourth of the four million tons of scrap imported into Vietnam in the first half came from Japan, and the United States came in second with 960,000 tons.

However, experts have pointed the finger at fraudulent importers. Speaking to the Vietnam News Agency, Hoang Van Thuc, deputy head of the Vietnam Environment Administration, said the environment authority had discovered a couple of cases in which local companies imported banned waste but falsified documents, licenses and even business addresses. This explains why these firms abandoned their imports at ports when prohibited scrap was detected.

Vietnam currently has no effective mechanism to monitor and stop unwanted waste from entry in the first place. Only when scrap containers reach the nation’s shores can the customs discover what is inside them, Thuc said.
Hoang Minh Dao, head of the Pollution Management Department under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said the current law only allows for the importation of scrap metal for production purposes. But many firms have taken advantage of it to import all sorts of garbage, allowing developed countries to dump their trash on developing nations.

“Importers don’t have to pay for such garbage. They can even get paid by exporters. Gold, silver, lead and mercury inside used electronic goods are also a good sell, so certain businesses are willing to break the law,” he said on Thanh Nien news site. But this unethical business practice cannot last long.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at a cabinet meeting last week stressed that illegal scrap importers will be brought to justice. As the backlogs of imported scrap at seaports are causing a great public concern, Phuc asked relevant ministries and agencies to take prompt action to prevent scrap from making it to the Vietnamese shores.

He also ordered law enforcement agencies to investigate and deal with the unclaimed scrap containers at Vietnamese ports. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is tasked with analyzing each kind of scrap and its impact on the environment so as to build a list of scarp which can be imported and which can not. Besides, all the already-issued licenses for scrap imports must be reviewed while no new licenses will be issued for scrap importers.

Mai Xuan Thanh, deputy general director of the General Department of Vietnam Customs, said in Phap Luat HCMC newspaper that the department would not clear any scrap import shipments failing to meet environmental protection standards and those having no clear origin. They must be shipped back to the port of origin if they remain at port 90 days from the date of arrival. Particularly, for illegal scrap importers, the customs will ask investigative police to step in to handle them in accordance with the law.

The customs has proposed the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment publicize a list of enterprises entitled to import scrap into Vietnam.

The country still needs second-hand plastic and paper for recycling, though. Therefore, the Government should rule that 100% of imported waste must be recycled.

While the issue has remained unresolved, ports in Haiphong, HCMC and Ba Ria-Vung Tau are struggling with the mountains of scrap containers which have not been cleared since they arrived more than 90 days ago. This has eroded the competitiveness of Vietnamese ports as they incur extra fees for storing and handling scrap containers. These fees can be passed on to other importers and exporters and in the long run, the economy will suffer. Urgent action is needed now. At the current pace of scrap import, Vietnam will soon become a new dumping ground of the world.

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