Tidying up one bottle at a time

10:11 | 29/05/2019

Vietnam’s rapid economic growth has resulted in environmental challenges which have prompted the country to develop a circular economy with less pollution, and reuse and recycling  of products based on international experience. Thanh Thu reports.

tidying up one bottle at a time
The circular use of resources would mitigate the damage caused by climate change, Photo: Shutterstock

Much has been made of the fact that Dasani is a brand of Coca-Cola, but it is little known that the Dasani water bottles Vietnamese consumers use every day had their weight reduced from 14.5 to the current 12.15 grammes – by 16.2 per cent.

“This allows us to save millions of US dollars in production and material costs,” said Dang Duy Tung, supply chain director of US-backed Coca-Cola Vietnam.

The 16.2 per cent reduction in plastic materials have also been applied by the company in the production of other types of drink bottles.

“The reduction of plastic materials will continue and is part of Coca-Cola’s efforts to green out its production in Vietnam, and contributes to the country’s pursuit of green growth and a circular economy,” Tung said.

Nguyen Quang Vinh, vice chairman of the Vietnam Business Council for Sustainable Development (VBCSD) under the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told VIR that efforts by Coca-Cola, among a number of other enterprises, are in line with Vietnam’s efforts to protect the environment, which has been seriously polluted over the past years, and to develop a circular economy.

Vietnam is developing quickly, leaving its low-income past behind and becoming a middle-income country. However, this rapid economic growth is accompanied by increasing pressure on the environment.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment reported that about 68,000 tonnes of solid waste are discharged every day by households nationwide, including 38,000 tonnes in urban areas and 30,000 tonnes in rural areas. About 54-77 per cent of urban solid waste contain organic substances, and about 8-18 per cent contain plastic and metal which can be recycled. Some 85 per cent of the waste in urban areas is collected, and the rate is about 40-55 per cent in rural areas. They are treated via burial or incineration, which are harmful to human health.

Meanwhile, the volume of industrial solid waste discharged by factories in Vietnam is now 8.1 million tonnes per year, excluding 17 million tonnes of ash, slag, and gypsum discharged annually by thermal power plants, and chemical and fertiliser production plants.

“In this context, international experiences have proved that a circular economy – a relatively new concept in Vietnam – could be a good solution,” Vinh told VIR. “Over recent years, many nations have also pursued a model of circular economy for their more sustainable development.”

According to experts, in a circular economy, waste from factories becomes a valuable input to other processes. Also, rather than disposing of defunct products, they are repaired, reused or upgraded.

However, a circular economy does not only mean efficient recycling. It is more. It also refers to enabling sustainable economic growth by optimising natural resource consumption, thus changing production chains and consumption models and redesigning industrial systems. A circular economy strives to maximise the circulation of products, components, and materials and the value bound to them as much as possible in the economy.

In a circular economy, production and consumption create the smallest possible amount of loss and waste. Material efficiency leads to environmental benefits that a world striving to distance itself from overconsumption needs in order to ensure sustainable development.

International experience

At the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, UN, and EU-level, the circular economy is gradually gaining grounds as a means of speeding up society’s move to a more resource-efficient system, thus improving competitiveness and responding to global environmental challenges. China and the US, which are the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters and resource consumers, have also recently recognised the opportunities of the circular economy.

The EU is known for having stricter environmental regulations than those in competing market areas. In 2015, the European Commission presented a circular economy package that aims for improved cost-efficiency, better balance of current accounts, increased self-sufficiency, new jobs, and achieving climate targets. The value of the circular economy in Europe alone is estimated at up to €570 million ($638.77 million) annually.

The broad-based proposals in the package contain incentives and reforms to accelerate the circular economy, such as extensive commitments on eco-design, development of strategic approaches on plastics and chemicals, a major initiative to fund innovative projects under the umbrella of the EU’s Horizon 2020 research programme, and targeted actions in key focus areas including plastics, food waste, construction, critical raw materials, industrial and mining waste, consumption, and public procurement.

New initiatives

Since early last year, the VBCSD and three foreign companies – US firms Coca-Cola Vietnam and Dow Chemical Vietnam, and multinational company Unilever Vietnam – have been jointly implementing the Zero Waste to Nature initiative. This initiative is part of Vietnam’s programme on supporting enterprises to materialise the country’s circular economy. The programme includes the establishment of a centre for assisting enterprises in this endeavour.

The centre focuses on suggesting policies, incentives, and mechanisms to the government to build up a secondary materials markets, introduce the ideal practices of global enterprises to local firms, and then implement initiatives based on the public-private partnership format.

The programme primarily targets plastic waste and is now piloted in Ho Chi Minh City and will be expanded to Hanoi and the central city of Danang. The programme’s activities will also target various industries, namely steel, cement, and textiles.

For Unilever Vietnam, in Ho Chi Minh City, the company has established a sustainable business model for collecting and recycling based on Solvolysis technology with Ho Chi Minh City Urban Environment Co., Ltd., as an example for nationwide scale up at a later stage and in preparation for the establishment of a Solvolysis technology waste treatment factory in 2020.

In April 2019, Dow Group and DEEP C, a joint venture between Belgium’s Rent-A-Port and the People’s Committee of the northern city of Haiphong, signed a memorandum of understanding to build the first road in Vietnam using recycled plastics at the DEEP C Industrial Zones complex in the northern port city of Haiphong. The first one-kilometre segment, to be completed in September, will divert nearly four metric tonnes of flexible packaging, the equivalent of roughly one million pieces of flexible wrappers which will be supplied by Dow customers in the surrounding areas. Upon completion, the new road will be tested by the Vietnam Maritime University prior to expanding the project throughout the entire complex.

“Dow has a strong commitment to ending plastic waste, in part by finding innovative ways to transform plastic waste into new products,” said Dow Vietnam general director Ekkasit Lakkananithiphan.

According to Vinh of the VBCSD, it is likely that many other big foreign companies, including Heineken, will also join the programme on supporting enterprises to materialise Vietnam’s circular economy. At Heineken Vietnam, the circular economy is currently best demonstrated by the application of biomass and biogas. Four out of six Heineken breweries in Vietnam brewed with 100 per cent carbon-neutral biomass energy in 2017. In 2019, the firm aims to brew with renewable energy in all of its breweries.

According to Tung from Coca-Cola Vietnam, which by 2030 aims to collect and recycle all of the waste it produces in the form of bottles, cans, nylon, paper, and more, not only foreign firms, but Vietnamese ones should consider the whole value chain to find opportunities to revise their own business models, contributing to Vietnam’s efforts to develop its circular economy.

“We believe that every package has value and life beyond its initial use and should be collected and recycled into beneficial use,” said Tung. “Though a bottle is small, it can contribute to building Vietnam’s circular economy successfully.”

Vinh also noted that in order for a circular economy to really take shape, in addition to the larger participation of enterprises, there is a need for an education and research policy.

“Integrating the circular economy as a whole with education and research policy at all levels of education is crucial. Another key element is training and continuing education for teachers: making a sustainable way of life and circular economy issues part of teacher education,” he said. “Research funding must be directed at cross-disciplinary research projects that promote the circular economy.”

On May 20, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc inked Directive No.13/CT-TTg on sustainable development.

He required ministries, agencies, and the provincial and municipal people’s committees to soon complete the ­compilation of action plans and programmes on implementing targets and tasks assigned by the government in the ­country’s National Action Plan on Implementing the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development in 2019.

The ministries, agencies, and committees must effectively integrate the implementation of sustainable development goals (SDGs) into the construction and deployment of socio-economic development plans, from the central to grassroots level.

They must implement policies in time to support the poor and those near poverty, ethnic minorities, and those enjoying the government’s support, as well as vulnerable groups.

The National Council on Sustainable Development and Competitiveness Improvement is tasked to provide ­consultancy for the government and the prime minister on the construction and implementation of strategies, policies, plans, programmes, tasks, and solutions in order to effectively realise the National Action Plan on Implementing the UN’s Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

Every year, at least one specific issue related to sustainable development must be selected and used to advise the prime minister about mechanisms, policies, and solutions for macro-monitoring.

The Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and the Vietnam Business Council for Sustainable Development (VBCSD) must continue enhancing their role as a supporter for enterprises in materialising sustainable development. They are also required to closely co-operate with the National Council on Sustainable Development and ­Competitiveness Improvement, ministries, sectors, and localities in implementing initiatives.

The initiatives include the organisation of policy dialogues on sustainable development; the implementation of a ­programme on assessing and classifying enterprises with sustainable development based on the VCCI’s Corporate ­Sustainable Index, which sets a standard for Vietnamese enterprises on sustainable development; the mobilisation of enterprise participation in realising the National Green Growth Strategy and the organisation of a high-level forum on green growth and the global goals 2030; and the implementation of the country’s circular economy initiative.

The VCCI and the VBCSD must also provide consultancy for the government on implementing solutions to address challenges arising from public-private partnerships in order to create a more favourable business climate, attracting the participation of more enterprises in materialising Vietnam’s SDGs.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam Association for Small and Medium Enterprises is also required to take the initiative in guiding its member enterprises to successfully deploy the National Action Plan on Implementing the UN’s Agenda 2030 for ­Sustainable Development. The association must work with ministries, sectors, agencies, and domestic and international organisations to attract support and resources in service of small- and medium-sized enterprises which will be able to contribute to realising the National Action Plan on Implementing the UN’s Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

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