Enhancing informal sector’s role in EPR implementation

(VEN) - The informal labor force plays a crucial role in the waste value chain, helping producers and exporters achieve recycling rates through the EPR mechanism.

Over three million workers involved in solid waste reduction

Vietnam is one of the countries that have experienced rapid economic growth over the past two decades while facing an increasing amount of waste.

The amount of solid waste is rising, with only a small percentage being recycled
The amount of solid waste is rising, with only a small percentage being recycled

In response to this situation, the 2020 Environmental Protection Law has introduced new provisions on circular economy (Article 142) and the responsibility for recycling, collection, and treatment of waste by organizations, individuals, producers, and importers (Articles 54-55), also known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). This is a new issue, and the implementation of EPR may impact waste collection, sorting and treatment in Vietnam.

Currently, the collection, transportation and recycling of waste in Vietnam are partially carried out by the informal sector or self-employed workers as well as small-scale establishments. Therefore, implementing the EPR mechanism will have implications for the participation of the informal sector.

According to a report on informal employment released by the General Statistics Office of Vietnam in 2022, Vietnam had 33.6 million informally employed workers in 2021, accounting for 68.5 percent of the total employed labor force. Among these informally employed workers, approximately three million are engaged in waste collection, transportation and treatment.

Therefore, the informal labor force is a crucial link in the waste value chain and can assist producers and exporters in achieving recycling rates through the EPR mechanism.

Enhancing informal sector’s role

One of the challenges faced by the informal labor force when implementing EPR regulations is that EPR funding can only be allocated for waste collection and product recovery by clearly identified legal entities such as businesses and organizations. However, self-employed workers are mostly not affiliated with specific businesses or organizations.

EPR regulations are typically associated with brands of major manufacturers and importers, and they often carry out the recovery and treatment through associations and service providers rather than relying on the informal labor force.

Female workers account for 90 percent of the informal labor force involved in solid waste reduction
Female workers account for 90 percent of the informal labor force involved in solid waste reduction

Furthermore, the collection of waste by the informal labor force mainly focuses on recyclable materials (valuable waste). However, EPR regulations mandate the responsibility for all types of post-consumer products, including packaging, i.e. non-valuable waste. Without proper coordination, EPR regulations may not be fully implemented or, in other words, may not cover the entire range of waste.

Ramla Khalidi, Resident Representative of UNDP in Vietnam, recommended that the informal sector should be considered as part of any solution and can help producers achieve recycling targets under the EPR mechanism. Therefore, their voices need to be heard.

According to Dr. Nguyen Sy Linh from the Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources and Environment, to promote the participation of the informal sector, it is necessary to conduct surveys and establish a data system on the involvement of self-employed workers in the waste value chain nationwide, particularly in major cities. This will facilitate the development of capacity-building programs and the formulation of appropriate support policies that target the right beneficiaries.

At the same time, it is necessary to expand the beneficiaries eligible for financial support from the EPR fund, particularly recycling and waste treatment facilities, as well as workers involved in plastic waste collection. Establishing a market for products made from recycled materials can promote recycling activities and create livelihoods for those involved in the waste value chain, especially in sustainable plastic waste management. There should be an organization representing this labor force to amplify their role and contributions to building a circular economy in Vietnam.

Sharing a solution to support the informal labor force in solid waste reduction, Jake Brunner, Country Representative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Vietnam, emphasized, “The challenge here is to improve employment conditions and connect them to the formal waste management system. This requires effective waste sorting at the source, expanding public investment in waste collection and treatment, and enforcing regulations against littering.”

Thu Huong

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