Combatting the causes of plastic waste

KALDEWEI, Ahlen, July 2019 – Kaldewei is supporting the WWF’s important marine conservation work. Their partnership aims to improve waste management in South-East Asia. Without regulated waste disposal, residual waste there is often simply dumped and, because of regular flooding in river basins, large quantities of it end up in the ocean. The fight against plastic waste began in 2018 with a model project in the Vietnamese provincial capital, Tan An, in the Mekong Delta. Dr. Bernhard Bauske, Project Co-ordinator Ocean Waste with the WWF is managing the project. In an interview the ocean waste expert answers questions about the project status, progress on the ground, and the challenges still waiting to be tackled.

Dr. Bauske, how would you assess the problem of plastic waste worldwide?
Plastic is produced in large quantities, it is not biodegradable and a large amount of it is disposed of unchecked in the landscape. In global terms, 32% of packaging waste alone ends up in the environment, including rivers and oceans. One lorryload of plastic waste enters the ocean every minute. It’s estimated that 80 to 120 millions tons of plastic waste now litter the oceans. Naturally, that has an impact on the ocean habitat and, above all, on the fauna: for sea birds, whales, marine turtles or fish, swallowing plastic waste causes injury or, for many animals, death. Around 800 animal species are being harmed by plastic waste in the ocean. Plastic production is increasing by around 5% every year. Only if the disposal of that waste can be better organised quickly will it be possible to stem this global environmental problem. We should not  allow plastic to get destroy the environment.

Why was the Mekong Delta in Vietnam chosen for this pilot project?
Vietnam is one of the five countries in the world where the most plastic enters our oceans. This is down to shortfalls in or the absence of waste collection, recycling and disposal systems. Furthermore, the Vietnamese have limited awareness of the environmental impact of plastic waste. Around 80% of the plastic that enters marine ecosystems can be attributed to inadequate waste management concepts on the mainland. Only 14% of plastic waste is recycled in Vietnam. The remainder goes to waste dumps or is disposed of untreated in the environment, often ending up via Vietnam’s many rivers in the ocean. The Mekong in southern Vietnam plays a key role here because this mighty river is one of the 11 in the world that carry the most plastic was̈te to the sea.

Has the WWF already been involved in this region?
Long An province was already chosen in 2017 as the location for the pilot project because the WWF has already been actively involved in nature conservation projects there for several years. Thanks to Kaldewei’s support, the WWF was able to quickly develop measures to reduce the entry of plastic waste into the ocean, and implement them on a pilot basis with the WWF Vietnam. This has been a big help to us.

What exactly is being done on the model project in Tan An?
To date, only a small part of the waste in the rural areas of the province has been recorded; although waste is collected in inhabited areas, it is then disposed of in fly waste tips. There is a risk here that when the Mekong Delta is flooded, some of the plastic waste at such tips will be washed into the river and then into the ocean. We want to put an end to this  by sorting out all recyclable elements of waste and then disposing of the far smaller quantities of residual waste effectively. There for, the  long-term goal is that, Long An province’s local authorities are given the right support to help develop an improved waste management concept. This, first and foremost, means separating household waste and organising recycling. Organic waste in particular – which accounts for 70% of all waste – is ideal for making compost that can be sold profitably. The same goes for plastic waste that will be recorded separately and sold on for recycling. The project is being supported by the provision of information to the local population in the project area.

Can you tell us about the current status of the pilot project?
A detailed waste management concept has been drawn up by German and Vietnamese experts over the last nine months. This means, for instance, that different kinds of waste management – such as the incineration of all waste or separated collection – were carefully considered whereby expenses such as labour and the costs of separate collection were calculated and a survey was conducted among possible buyers of residual waste to determine potential revenue. A financing plan for investments and operating costs is now in place throughout the province of Long An. At the same time, the WWF is working with the local authorities on the details of the model project such as the size of the project area, the collection routes and the provision of space for composting. The results so far were presented to the state institutions, private-sector stakeholders and public representatives and discussed at an event at the end of February. The outcome was that this project is being supported and driven by the stakeholders.

What came out of the feasibility study in detail?
At the moment, the individual types of waste are not being separated. The amount of residual waste that is being dumped or fly-tipped is comparatively large. The average collection rate is only 67% although the collection rate in rural areas is far lower. Waste is often incinerated there, buried in gardens or thrown into the rivers and canals of the Mekong Delta. That is one of the main reasons for plastic waste in the ocean. As a consequence, this way of treating waste also endangers the groundwater, while emissions from open incineration pose a risk to public health.

Have you found out what would encourage people to collect, separate and possibly recycle waste?
Valuable waste elements such as aluminium or tin cans and PET plastic bottles are collected separately by a few people who then sell this material to earn a small income.  However, significant quantities of recyclable materials remain in residual waste. There is also great demand in the region for compost and compost products, although the quality of the compost must be right. Contamination of the compost from any waste that is collected separately – such as toxic batteries or old pesticide packaging – must be avoided.

How were you able to persuade decision-makers in Long An to put a stop to fly-tipping?
The good news about the waste management concept is that revenue from the marketing of compost and other recyclable waste such as plastic will probably be enough to cover most of the disposal costs. At the same time, any number of new jobs will be created.

How would you assess the results of the feasibility study?
We see it as the first successful step because, in terms of operating costs, this concept can be more affordable than the current practice of simply collecting the waste and dumping it in the landscape. However, significant state investments are still required in order to implement the concept throughout the entire province of Long An because the technological and ecological standard of waste treatment and disposal facilities there remains very poor.

What does that mean for the project in concrete terms? How will matters proceed given these specific local challenges?
In keeping with our concept, in one district of the provincial capital, Tan An, household waste will be separated into three categories: organic waste, recyclables and residual waste. The separate collection of recyclable waste will improve its quality so that higher earnings can be achieved for these materials such as old plastic. Collection containers and carts are now being organised. Space is being made available for composting at a waste treatment plant.

So household waste collection is going to be improved in three areas – have the measures already been put in place?
Yes. Following the event in Tan An on 26 February 2019 at which the project was introduced, concrete planning and the implementation of individual measures are now underway. Initially, the waste from 4,500 households will be recorded separately. A meeting with the People’s Committee of the model project district took place in April this year to discuss organisational questions around separate waste collection – such as the provision of collection carts and waste containers. On 3 April 150 members of Long An’s Youth Union were given training on the impact of plastic on the environment and the benefits of waste separation. Training for the province’s Women’s Union took place on 25 April, for the model project district’s Women’s Union on 26 April, and for further districts of Tan An in May and June of this year. Alongside this, since May this year, households in the project district are being informed and given corresponding training.

What’s going to happen next? What other measures are planned?
The composting of around 1,000 tons of waste per year will be carried out at the central waste sorting and incineration plant in Long An. The space for the composting facility should be available from June 2019. A sorting guideline for plastics will be developed to improve the quality of the recyclable material. Separate waste collection is to be monitored carefully and quality controls introduced in order to maintain and enhance the quality of the compost. These measures will help to achieve the expected revenue. In my opinion, the successful execution of this project is very important for the region and for other provinces. It must be persuasively demonstrated that a circular economy conserves the environment and can also generate revenue. To achieve this, however, good quality management of the individual measures is essential.

In what way do you want to present the results to the public?
An important element of the project is to disseminate the results of the pilot project once it has got underway. With this in mind,  an information platform for the project will be set up, in order to share successful results and experience with decision-makers as well as stakeholders such as schools and non-governmental organisations, via TV, radio, the People’s Committee website and newspapers.

Kaldewei is the first company in Germany to get involved in marine conservation on this scale: what role do you think business plays in the fight against plastic waste?
Kaldewei’s support is an intergral  contribution to reducing the entry of plastic into our oceans and  to nature and environmental conservation in general. Companies who, like Kaldewei, get involved in marine conservation make it possible for us to set up such projects quickly in the first place. Without the support of every individual – and businesses in particular – we will not be able to resolve this global environmental problem. Those who create plastic waste around the world must take responsibility for its disposal. For example, consumer goods manufacturers the world over, such as in Germany and many other European countries, should contribute via taxes to the costs of collecting and sorting packaging waste, while consumers should help to finance the recycling of waste and scrap material by paying charges for the regular emptying of organic, paper and residual waste containers.

 

Source: Franz Kaldewei GmbH & Co. KG. Copy requested.

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Dr. Bernhard Bauske, an expert on marine waste with the WWF Germany warns that without the support of each individual, and business in particular, we will be unable to resolve this global environmental problem. Those who create plastic waste around the world must take responsibility for its disposal.

Source: © WWF  |  12_1_Kaldewei_WWF_Dr_Bernhard_Bauske

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Dr. Bernhard Bauske, an expert on marine waste with the WWF Germany, viewing dumps in Long An, Vietnam. Only 14% of plastic waste is recycled in Vietnam. The rest goes to dumps or is disposed of untreated in the landscape, frequently ending up in Vietnam’s many rivers and, ultimately, in the ocean.

Source: © WWF  |  12_2_Kaldewei_WWF_Dr_Bernhard_Bauske_Mekong