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Waste not, want not

By: Nguy Ha Posted: January-22-2011 in
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Nguy Ha

It is hard to believe that nice cloth hangers, colourful plastic chairs and small dustpans are made from empty plastic bottles, worn-out plastic sandals, and broken toys. But almost anything with a recyclable use is being put back into action at Trieu Khuc village, Tan Trieu Commune, Thanh Tri district, Hanoi.

Stepping into the village, waste is piled every where. Trucks and cyclos are stacked with packs of rubbish. But waste isn’t litter here. Locals are busily sorting and collecting. Some boys are collecting dry plastic grain while another group of women are classifying plastic bags according to colour.

Trieu Khuc village has risen to fame based on its fame as a recycling village. People collect waste materials from every road in Hanoi sell the rubbish to buyers. They will classify, clean and then sell the clean items to wholesale buyers from Lang Son province, Ho Chi Minh City or even China.

Previously, Trieu Khuc focused on cloth and wool-making but in recent years many families have taken to focussing on becoming waste material buyers and producers. They buy everything that can be recycled. The whole village works as production chain. Some families just collect raw wasted materials; others focus on classifying the junk, while some focus on grinding down the plastic which is then transferred to families that produce daily products.

People say that without Trieu Khuc village, Hanoi would be awash with waste. From rubbish, many families in Trieu Khuc have achieved undreamt of financial benefits and the less educated have found new jobs to survive.

Vinh Huong Plastics is located next door to the new four-storey house of its owner. Inside the factory six machines are at work. Three young girls and a small boy are cleaning off the jagged edged sprues of newly produced plastic products. 33 year old Trieu Dinh Linh, the owner of Vinh Huong enterprise proudly states: “I’ve a strong attachment to the recycling industry, having been involved in it for the last decade. My business is quite good. At the moment, I hire 15 employees, with their salaries ranging from 1.2 million VND ($72.30) to 1.5 million ($90.36). Although we only earn 2,000 VND ($0.12) per finished plastic dustpan or 6-7,000 ($0.36-$0.42) per ten clothes hangers, my turnover for each year is 2 billion VND ($1.2 million)”

Besides recycling plastic, locals also make dusters from cockerel feathers. Through skilful people, long chicken feathers are collected, cleaned and turned into dusters. Nguyen Huy Luan says “My family have produced feather dusters for more than 70 years. At first it was a secondary job which we did when we weren’t occupied by our farming. But now, it has become our main job because rats destroyed the nearby farmland. Making dusters isn’t hard work, and doesn’t require large amounts of investment. We only use thread to create a chain of feathers, then we attach them to a bamboo stick with a small amount of tar.” From his family, hundred of grooms are produced everyday.

This industry brings job to locals and plays a key role in keeping young people from less legal temptations. 16 year-old boy Hoang Manh Quan, who works for the Vinh Huong factory says “I only passed high school and it’s very difficult to find good job with my limited education. Luckily I can work in my village. I can earn money with my own hands and don’t have to spend time on silly online games and just hanging around.”

The village has grown so important that jobs are now available for migrants from other provinces. Forty one year-old Nguyen Thi Hoa from Nam Dinh has collected wasted material for a decade. She says “I have to drive my bicycle through every road in Hanoi to buy waste materials and collect plastic from rubbish dumps on road side. In the last two months, price of all materials have fallen so I’ve only earned 30,000VND to 50,000VND ($1.8-$3) per day. Every kilo of plastic I can sell is worth 3,000VND ($0.18) and with one empty box of milk powder, I have only 500 VND ($0.03). Life is very hard but at least I have a job to survive, and I feel very happy because with my money, I can bring up my children and now my first son has become a student”.

Rubbish collectors also have to be careful of rubbish fraud. Victim Do Thi Huong sadly says: “a man once sold me a roll of copper wire. When I held it, it felt heavy and I thought I was lucky to get such a good bargain for only 500,000VND ($30). But when I got home, I realised that the core was just concrete.”

No-one denies that recycling has changed local lives for the positive but it also perpetuates an environmental problem. Because locals bring rubbish from everywhere to the village, its environment has suffered. High heaps of empty and dirty plastic bottles, tins and cans can be seen everywhere. Water to wash shampoo, lubricant bottles and cloth chemical dye has polluted the ponds and dykes. During floods, all the rubbish drifted and the polluted water contaminated the clean water supply of every house in the village. In addition, Trieu Khuc suffers from poor air quality. At one end of the village, duck and chicken feathers are laid out to dry for before being used to produce woollen and feather pillows, blankets and coats. The smell of dirty feathers when the sun is out is appalling.
Nguyen Duy Tuan, the head of Trieu Khuc People’s Committee says “Now we have plans to build a recycling zone with a sewage system,” which means in the future, the village will hopefully be able to recycle everyone else’s rubbish, yet not become a rubbish dump themselves.

Read more articles by Nguy Ha


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