Garbage and Recycling in Vietnam

If you are from a country with developed garbage collection system such as Sweden or Canada, you may feel it very strange as you get used to the norm of waste and recycling in Vietnam. The division of garbage into organic versus non-organic, or paper/can & bottle/glass/waste categories hardly exists. Many families just throw all they consider waste in one or several plastic bags, and at the end of the day, when the dumpster trolleys pass by the neighborhood and ring, these bags will be collected and sent to a waste handling center for processing.

Garbage Trolley in Vietnam
Dumpster trolley to collect garbage in Vietnam

Though people in Vietnam, especially in big cities, are not aware how beneficial it is to categorize throw-aways into garbage and recycling items, and there are no strict legal system that dictate the behavior, there is an interesting system in the place to make things better than it sound.

In particular, dumpster diving is an occupation in Vietnam, with many men and women often browsing through the pile to look for reusable and recyclable items such as glass bottle, paper and cardboard to sell them back to those in need for some petty cash. There are also a plenty of ‘dong nat’ or ‘ve chai’: street sellers whose trading items are recyclable and reusable products. They actively wander around the streets and offer to buy these items and later sell them back to the dealers and profit from the difference.

Ve Chai Vietnam
Ve chai/ Dong nat or recycler of Vietnam

So if you are living long term in Vietnam, be prepared for this new way of working around trash. You can still categorize the trash the way you use too, then give them away to the “dong nat” or “ve chai” for free or some extra change. The rest that goes to waste, all you need is to put them in a garbage bag and wait for the trolley to pass by your house. If you are unsure what time the trolley comes, ask or take a look at what your neighbor does. Most garbage collectors will come after 5:30 PM and can collect the garbage as late as 9 PM, many will just take what already sits in front of the houses while others will let you do it yourself.

The last thing to take note of is that, in Vietnam, packaging is not at all developed so you will not have to worry about the load of cans and tins like back in your country, but the plastic can be twice or three times as much. If you don’t want to take plastic bag home, carry your basket when you go to the market and put vegetables in the basket without the plastic bag. If you have them at home, try to reuse them whenever possible. You can always give it back to the sellers so that they can save their bucks and you can help save the environment.