In suburban Chuong My district in Hanoi, tonnes of waste have been discarded on the sides of roads, forming huge mounds of stinking rubbish, Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper reported.
“Plastic bags full of rotting trash pile up and spread onto the road, but it is rarely taken away," said Le Thi Hien, owner of a beauty boutique near a dump in Ngọc Hoa commune.
“The smell of decomposing meat is the worst,” said Nguyen Thi Hong. “Flies follow the smell, invading our houses and creating a risk of disease.”
Residents of Sai Son commune are struggling to cope with untreated domestic waste. Many have installed glass and net doors to keep out flies and smells - and most have installed insect traps and burn incense, said resident Phung Thi Khanh.
“A dose of mosquito spray that should be effective for three months lasts only a few days here,” she said. “Sometimes we have to hang mosquito nets around us when having dinner, and never dare leave the doors and windows open.”
Untreated domestic waste is also polluting agricultural land, ponds and rivers in the northern province of Vinh Phuc, and robbing local farmers of their livelihoods.
Pham Thi Sinh, a resident of the Doai village, said she had to stop growing vegetable and peanuts a few years ago because her field was polluted by waste from an adjacent landfill.
“Water in a local well that we used to use to grow our plants became dark and emitted a stinking smell,” she said. “Maggots, worms and insects came out of the landfill every time it rained. It scared people off, and they boycotted our agricultural products."
It is beyond the capability of authorities to treat all domestic waste, said Trinh Duy Hoa, Vice Chairman of the People’s Committee of Ngoc Hoa commune in Hanoi.
“The amount is just overwhelming,” he said. “We also tried to take the garbage out of the canals to clear water for agricultural production once in a while, but still can’t get rid of it all.”
Pham Manh Cuong, deputy manager of the environmental protection division of Vinh Phuc province, said that the province was only able to treat 400 out of 585 tonnes of domestic waste every day, either by burning or burying.
Sometimes resident burn waste themselves, which creates air pollution, said Nguyen Van Thang, Vice Chairman of the People’s Committee of Chan Hung commune in Vinh Phuc province.
“We are well aware of those risks, but can’t provide residents with any alternative solution since we don’t have the resources to build high-capacity incinerators,” he said.
A 2014 report on dioxin contamination in the Vietnamese environment issued by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources shows that several samples of emission fumes and waste taken from incinerators in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the northern province of Hai Duong have dioxin concentrations and dioxin-like toxicities many times higher than the permitted levels.
There are about 100 low-capacity incinerators across the country that are not equipped with emission treatment systems, according to the Department of Waste Management and Environmental Improvement. They use low temperatures for burning waste, which leads to toxic gases being expelled into the air.
Nguyen Thanh Yen, deputy director of the department, told Thanh Nien that rural domestic waste could not be eradicated because of the overlapping management by different authorities.
“The responsibility for solid waste management is divided between the Ministry for Natural Resources and Environment, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, but none of these agencies has really stepped up to the mark,” he said.
“At the local level, local authorities are passive in planning waste treatment policies and preparing financial resources for waste treatment,” he added.
As for the State, it has not had a specific orientation towards any waste treatment methods and has not developed criteria for waste treatment facility and technology selection, he added.
To improve waste treatment in rural areas, Yen said that the environment ministry would collaborate with other management agencies and local authorities to develop a solid waste treatment mechanism which reduces the amount of buried waste and promotes waste recycling, waste re-use, and energy recovery from waste.
The ministry will review rural environmental protection policies, and redefine the roles of each management agency, enterprise and community in waste management, he said.