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Incineration and hazardous informal recycling in Hanoi, Vietnam

With the construction of new waste-to-energy plants, Hanoi is rapidly moving towards technology-based solutions to its growing waste problems, 'wasting' the recycling potential of over 20,000 waste pickers whose livelihoods are increasingly under threat.


At the end of 2018, Vietnam’s fast-growing capital Hanoi announced the construction of four new waste-to-energy plants, saying that converting trash into energy is more efficient than burying it and would also reduce environmental issues. This is expected to reduce waste volumes by 80 percent, whereas the remaining 20 percent still have to be buried. Three of the incinerators are planned to be installed by 2021 next to the city’s largest landfills in Nam Son and Xuan Son, where so-far over 6,000 tons of waste were discarded daily and constructions already started, and another one at a waste treatment center in the Chuong My district, where an investor was still awaited. [1][2][3]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Incineration and hazardous informal recycling in Hanoi, Vietnam
State or province:Hanoi
Location of conflict:Nam Son, Xuan Son, Chuong My
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
E-waste and other waste import zones
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Manufacturing activities
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Recycled Metals
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Four new waste-to-energy plants are planned to be built between 2020 and 2021. One will be located at the existing Nam Son Waste Treatment Complex (Soc Son District), two more in the Xuan Son Waste Treatment Zone (Ba Vi District), and another one in the Dong Ke Solid Waste Treatment Zone (Chuong My District), where an investor is still awaited. [1][2][3]

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Project area:157
Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:2016
Company names or state enterprises:Hanoi Thien Y Energy Environment Joint Stock Company (Thien Y) from Vietnam - Develops Nam Son incinerator
T&T Group from Vietnam - Develops Xuan Son incinerator
Hitachi Zosen Corporation from Japan - Develops Xuan Son incinerator; developed industrial waste incinerator in Nam Son
Hanoi Urban Environment Company (Urenco) from Vietnam - Municipal waste collector; operates Nam Son and Xuan Son landfills
Relevant government actors:Hanoi People's Committee
Hanoi Department of Construction
Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment
District Authorities
Government of Vietnam
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)
Global Alliance of Waste Pickers (Globalrec)
Ocean Conservancy
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage)
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:While the formal waste management sector has so-far not engaged in any valorization of waste, Hanoi’s sophisticated network of informal recycling is believed to recover more than 1,000 tons of recyclable waste per day, and thus, ultimately links to big traders and industries. There has so far not been any policy to include waste pickers into formal recycling schemes or attempts to improve the precarious situation of most informal recyclers, especially women. At the same time, communities directly affected by the impacts of improper formal waste management continue to struggle, while waste imports and uncontrolled precarious recycling in Hanoi’s ‘plastic villages’ have tremendous environmental and health impacts.

In light of Hanoi’s recent economic boom and urban transition – which, as described by Mitchell (2008), also changed the social dynamics of informal recycling – also formal waste management policies have started to increasingly recognize the value of waste, framing it as a ‘problem’ that can be ‘minimized’ and at the same time ‘valorized’. Berceguel et al. (2017) hence note that the city’s waste management sector is currently at a turning point, at which either the work of traditional informal recyclers or new large-scale private actors could be strengthened [20]. It seems that the recently adopted policies have rather accentuated the private-sector, technology-driven approaches to burn waste at large scale, rather than improved ‘reduce, reuse and recycling’ measures and the position of waste pickers.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[15] GAIA (2018): ADB & Waste Incineration: Bankrolling Pollution, Blocking Solutions. November 2018.
[click to view]

[19] Bercegol, R., Cavé, J., Huyen, A. (2017): Waste Municipal Service and Informal Recycling Sector in Fast-Growing Asian Cities: Co-Existence, Opposition or Integration? In: Resources 2017, 6(4), 70.

[21] Mitchell, C. (2008): Altered landscapes, altered livelihoods: The shifting experience of informal waste collecting during Hanoi’s urban transformation. In: Geoforum, 39, pp. 2019-2029.

[9] Dinh, T. (2019): Taiwanese method mooted for raising capacity of Hanoi’s major landfills. VNExpress, 16.06.2019. (Online, last accessed: 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[9] Dinh, T. (2019): Taiwanese method mooted for raising capacity of Hanoi’s major landfills. VN Express, 16.06.2019. (Online, last accessed: 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[12] Duong, H. (2019): Hà Nội: Đường vào bãi rác Nam Sơn đã thông trở lại. Anninh Thudo, 05.07.2019. (Online, last accessed: 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[13] Thanh, N. (2019): Workers rush to collect waste in Hanoi after third landfill protest ends. VN Express, 26.12.2019. (Online, last accessed: 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[14] Chinh, G. (2019): Protestors block roads leading to Hanoi landfill, demand compensation. VN Express, 25.12.2019. (Online, last accessed: 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[14] Chinh, G. (2019): Protestors block roads leading to Hanoi landfill, demand compensation. VNExpress, 25.12.2019. (Online, last accessed: 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[17] Nguyen, N. (2017): Trash talk: Vietnam slowly sinking under mountains of waste. VNExpress, 29.08.2017. (Online, last accessed: 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[17] Nguyen, N. (2017): Trash talk: Vietnam slowly sinking under mountains of waste. VN Express, 29.08.2017. (Online, last accessed: 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[20] The Voice of Vietnam (2016): Earning a living at Hanoi landfill at night. 20.08.2016. (Online, last accessed: 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[22] Globalrec (n.d.): Law Report: Vietnam. (Online, last accessed: 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[23] Retamal, M., Dominish, E., Thinh, L., Nguyen, A., Sharpe, S. (2019): Here’s what happens to our plastic recycling when it goes offshore. The Conversation, 29.01.2019. (Online, last accessed: 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[24] McCormick, E., Murray, B., Fonbuena, C., Kijewski, L., Saraçoğlu, G., Fullerton, J., Gee, A., Simmonds, C. (2019): Where does your plastic go? Global investigation reveals America's dirty secret. The Guardian, 17.06.2019. (Online, last accessed: 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[25] VietnamNet (2018): The ‘billionaires’ waste recycling village is seriously polluted. 17.07.2018. (Online, last accessed: 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice Project (MS)
Last update12/05/2020
Conflict ID:5042
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