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Mountains of Waste
And a TikTok inspection update
Good morning! Hello to all new readers, and welcome to the latest free-to-read edition of the Vietnam Weekly, written by reporter Mike Tatarski. On Tuesday, I published a lengthy feature on the ongoing real estate crisis for paying subscribers. You can upgrade to a paid subscription to access that and receive all future exclusive stories for US$5/month or US$50/year below. I’ll post a big piece on VinFast in the next week or two and one about Long Thanh International Airport after the 22nd.
A few quick points: U.S. President Joe Biden said this week that he will visit Vietnam “shortly,” potentially to officially upgrade the relationship between the two countries. U.S. officials have been pushing for this for a while. Biden, however, may not attend the ASEAN Summit in Jakarta from September 4-7.
Vietnam’s much-celebrated new tourist visa regulations go into effect on Tuesday, but no official guidelines regarding their implementation have been released and the immigration department’s website includes no information on the matter.
On to the news.
Overwhelming Levels of Trash
Garbage is often cited as one of Vietnam’s most visible problems - tourists (and residents) complain about the rampant littering and beaches awash in waste, and officials routinely discuss the importance of improved waste management.
But Vietnam has an awfully long way to go as evidenced by recent developments across the country.
In the Mekong Delta’s Bến Tre Province, residents have blocked access to the An Hiệp landfill to protest the stench and leaks that are polluting local waterways. Trash has also been blown into nearby shrimp farms and homes.
A waste treatment plant previously processed waste from the area, which includes Bến Tre City, but officials closed it for environmental reasons and now all waste is being buried at An Hiệp. Local leaders say this is a temporary situation until a new treatment facility can be built, but as you’ll see these ‘temporary’ situations often last a long time.
Elsewhere in the delta, Long An Province has just one waste treatment plant - it can process 300 tons of trash per day, but the province collects over 800 tons of waste per day, meaning this excess is simply dumped untreated into landfills.
Similar situations can be found in Bạc Liêu, Trà Vinh, and Vĩnh Long.
In Đà Nẵng, the city’s only landfill has been full since 2019 and has also been blocked by nearby residents several times. Officials began work on a waste treatment plant next to the landfill in 2010, but it remains unfinished. They announced another plant in 2017 but haven’t even progressed beyond the paperwork needed to begin construction.
Meanwhile, uncollected garbage and construction waste litters Đà Nẵng’s prime coastal road.
The Quang Trung waste treatment complex in Đồng Nai, the largest such facility in southern Vietnam, was designed to process 600 tons of waste per day - it now receives 1,200 tons every day and may stop accepting further shipments by the end of the year, while residents in the area face hideous smells. The plant’s operator proposed expanding its area to bury waste, but just the paperwork to approve that will take four months.
Here in Ho Chi Minh City, the outdated Tay Bac waste treatment facility in Củ Chi District generates a stench that spreads as far as 10 kilometers and wastewater that pollutes waterways and kills plants. A barrier of trees intended to keep waste from leaking out of the plant hasn’t been completed for 17 years due to funding and paperwork issues.
Elsewhere in the city Vietnam Wate Solution, which runs the infamous Đa Phước landfill, recently sued a woman for running a Facebook group called "The truth about the stench in Phu My Hung."
Even though local media has repeatedly covered Đa Phước over the years and how it routinely spreads foul odors across one of the city’s premier residential areas, the Nhà Bè District court forced the woman to publicly apologize to the landfill operator and remove her posts on the topic.
In 2020, city officials said they would close the landfill by 2024, but as far as I know, no alternative treatment plants have been built.
Vietnam’s islands aren’t safe either: beaches on Cô Tô in Quảng Ninh Province are covered in styrofoam boxes washed ashore from floating fish farms. Beaches around Hạ Long Bay recently faced a similar situation after a government program to replace styrofoam buoys at fish farms backfired and fishermen simply threw the buoys into the water.
Finally, Phú Quốc - possibly the country’s most egregious planning failure - will burn 200,000 tons of trash over the next two years after a waste treatment plant was closed following an unsuccessful trial run.
Vietnam is far from alone in struggling to control its waste, but it’s clear that the situation on the ground has reached a breaking point in multiple regions.
Landslides and Flash Floods
As briefly covered last week, severe weather has been hammering the Central Highlands and northern mountains.
Officials in Đắk Nông declared a province-wide state of emergency on Tuesday after landslides and ruptures in the earth (yes, really) destroyed multiple roads and put residential areas at risk.
Hundreds of people across the province have been evacuated after intense rain caused large cracks to appear in the ground.
There is concern that the vast Đắk N'Ting reservoir in the province may burst through its dam after huge cracks began appearing at its base. At least 140 families living downstream have been evacuated.
Yên Bái has been particularly hard-hit, with a commune completely isolated by flash floods and sludge from a copper ore processing plant breaking its containment reservoir and barreling through a village. Dozens of homes were left covered in potentially toxic mud.
Waiting on the TikTok Announcement
Back in June, I discussed the government’s cross-ministry ‘comprehensive inspection’ of TikTok, the only major foreign social media company with a physical office in Vietnam.
The results of that inspection were supposed to be announced in July, but that didn’t happen.
However, on July 1, Tuoi Tre News published an article titled ‘TikTok signs document to admit wrongdoing in Vietnam’ that quickly disappeared.
It covered remarks by Lê Quang Tự Do, head of the Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information under the communications ministry, who said that the government had made TikTok “sign an admission of wrongdoing and undertake specific corrective actions.” (Do also said that content removal by YouTube, Facebook, and TikTok at the request of authorities was “at record levels.”)
Curiously, the Vietnamese-language version of that article is still online.
News on the TikTok front had been quiet since then until this week, when Do said that the company hasn’t finished explaining its violations, therefore officials haven’t announced the inspection results.
Nonetheless, the article linked above describes these violations - in hilarious detail in one case: “this social network had not managed its idols’ activities, letting them to produce [sic] crappy and uncultured contents.”
There’s no timeline for when this will wrap up. In the meantime, TikTop Shop has exploded in popularity, overtaking Lazada to rack up the second-most revenue of any e-commerce platform in the country in the first half of 2023.
In Vietnam, ‘flexers’ tout US degrees, status, wealth as the economy soars. Others barely sleep (South China Morning Post)
How Vietnam’s Infrastructure Incapacity Undermines Its Geoeconomic Ambitions (The Diplomat - readers in Vietnam need a VPN)
Have a great weekend!