Scrap recycling makes many villagers billionaires but causes pollution

Over the past 30 years, many people in Khoai Village of Văn Lâm District, Hưng Yên Province have rapidly gotten rich, many of them even becoming billionaires, thanks to traveling all over the country buying scrap and recycling.

Located adjacent to Hà Nội’s Gia Lâm District, about 25km east of the capital centre, Minh Khai Village (also known as Khoai Village) is often called as the village of scrap billionaires.

Right from the gate of the village, there are piles of sacks filled with recycled plastic and nylon. Every day, hundreds of large and small trucks and three-wheeled carts carrying sacks of "junk" pass through the village gate.

Sacks containing recycled plastic and nylon are piled up along both sides of the village roads. Some vacant lots are used by people gathering scrap, with dozens of sacks containing plastic and nylon stacked more than 10m high.

These are also the workplaces of those sorting plastic and nylon for recycling.

Sitting in the middle of a pile of plastic higher than her head, with quick hands, Nguyễn Thị Thúy, from Thái Nguyên Province, classified each type such as bottles, plastic bags, blister packs and raincoats into different piles.

“Every day, I start my job at 7am and end at 5pm,” Thúy told dantri.com.vn.

“My job is to pick up and sort recyclable plastic items to send to the processing and production workshops in the village,” Thúy said.

“I am paid about VNĐ200,000-300,000 (US$7.9-11.8) per day,” the migrant worker said.

In her first days of arriving in Khoai Village, Thúy was shocked by the bad smell emanating from plastic and nylon. Over time, she got used to it, and now she has been sorting recycled plastic for more than three years.

Sacks of scrap pile up on a road of Khoai Village in Hưng Yên Province. — Photo dantri.com.vn
Sacks of scrap pile up on a road of Khoai Village in Hưng Yên Province. — Photo dantri.com.vn

Having been involved in the plastic classification profession in Khoai Village for nearly 30 years, Nguyễn Thị Hoa, from Gia Lâm District, said that in the early 90s, workshops were small-scale businesses and they only received scrap from within the province.

A few years later, realising that the job gave them a stable income, many workshop owners went all over the country to buy scrap, some even went abroad to import goods, Hoa said.

In the past ten years, many families expanded production and business, so they built plastic processing factories.

“The work is not too complicated or difficult, but dirty, because plastic bags have a very unpleasant stench, especially on hot summer days,” Hoa said.

Recycling of plastic and nylon includes stages such as sorting, washing, turning, crushing and melting.

"The work is toxic, but every day we only earn from VNĐ230,000 to 250,000," she said.

“Most factories in Khoai Village only have workers working, while the owners travel around to buy scrap and sell recycled products,” she added.

The work of sorting, processing, recycling and producing plastic items is mostly done by women, while men are in charge of portering and transporting plastic bags from outside the village or from other gathering places to the factories.

Khoai Village becomes a large scrap recycling hub of the country.

Concern of pollution

Phùng Văn Thắng, 70-year-old villager, said that currently in the village there are hundreds of families making a living by collecting and recycling plastic.

The whole village has more than 1,000 households, and about 600 households work in plastic recycling and production.

More than 20 years ago, villagers went out to collect scrap for sorting and recycling.

Later, when the production expanded rapidly, the villagers hired more workers from other provinces. Currently, the majority of workers at factories are from outside the province, Thắng said.

The workshop owners all leave the village early in the morning to collect scrap and return when it was dark, he said.

Thanks to the job, many people have changed their lives, earning billions of đồng from recycling plastic, but Thắng and many people have to admit that the village environment is seriously polluted, greatly affecting people's lives and health.

The stages of washing, stirring, grinding and melting all kinds of nylon and plastic waste have seriously affected the water and air, while plastic recycling activities also cause noise and emissions that affect neighbouring areas.

Domestic water sources as well as thick, polluted air have now reached red alert levels. Khoai Village has more than 4,800 people and 2,000 local workers. About 7,000 people live every day in an atmosphere filled with a strong, burning smell of plastic.

Phùng Văn Vinh, head of the village, said that many assessments showed that the local environment was heavily polluted. Authorities of all levels have come to survey and discuss solutions, but they have not been effective.

The backlog of waste and non-recyclable plastic is also a problem that causes headaches for the locality, Vinh said.

Khoai Village is proposing the People's Committee of Văn Lâm District pay attention to the pollution situation in the village and have a plan to build an incinerator for non-recyclable scrap to ensure that it does not cause harm to the living environment of the people.

According to Vinh, people are gradually becoming aware of the dangers of waste and the consequences of recycling activities on the environment in Khoai Village, so a few have converted production lines to produce virgin plastic.

However, this number only accounts for about 30 per cent. The remaining households, because they do not have enough capital, still have to rely on rudimentary and dirty recycling processes, he said.

Waste is the source of livelihood for thousands of Khoai villagers and migrant workers.

It is estimated that each month the amount of garbage imported here reaches hundreds of tonnes.

A Khoai villager said that recycling plastic and nylon has been the main source of income for her family for many years.

“Although I know recycling and production activities cause environmental pollution, even if I told to quit the job, it is impossible because the profession has been around for decades, from my parents' lifetime to my children's lifetime, we have only ever relied on this job to make a living,” she said.

Source: VNS

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