Nguyen Thanh Quang is looking forward to resuming his morning habit of cycling around his neighborhood in Hanoi’s Dong Da District.
He had been staying at home all day after uncollected trash piled up on several streets, the resultant stink exacerbating the capital’s long-standing air pollution problem.
“I cycle to be healthier, but the uncollected garbage makes me sick,” said Quang, 61, a resident of Thai Ha Street.
The garbage has been piling up in the capital city for the last three days after residents in the vicinity started blocking the road to Hanoi’s largest waste treatment complex on October 23 to protest authorities’ policies on site clearance compensation to expand the complex. This has been a long-standing grievance that the authorities have failed to redress.
At around 8 p.m. Monday, protesters stopped blocking the road running to the capital city’s largest waste treatment complex, after a meeting with local authorities in the afternoon.
Hundreds of garbage trucks have been allowed to enter the complex to do their job after the three-day blockade.
Uncollected garbage spills over on to the normally clean Mai Hac De Street in the capital city. Photo courtesy of VOV.
As tons of uncollected garbage piled up, many Hanoians are facing upheavals in their daily life and business activities. Those staying next to the garbage piles are suffering the most as the stench pervades their homes despite closed windows and doors.
“I have kept all of the windows closed since last weekend, but the stink is still here, we have to wear masks while watching TV and talking to others,” said Tran Mai Trang, a resident of the bustling Doi Can Street.
The 34-year-old woman added that her four-member family could not eat at home because of the stink from uncollected trash outside their door.
“Are we supposed to wear masks when sleeping?” she asked.
Even when commuting, the health of people, especially children and elders, is put at risk of bacterial infections that can inflict serious damage, adding to the problem of polluted air.
Nguyen Thi Thu Huong, a housewife in Nam Tu Liem District, said she is worried about taking her 8-year-old daughter to school via Tan My Street because “the whole street is a massive landfill with piles and piles of garbage.”
“Winter is coming and now, apart from the cold, children have to suffer the stink and problems caused by bacterial from the garbage. This is more than awful,” the mother said.
On October 26, before the cleanup began, the pile of uncollected garbage stretched nearly one kilometer on Tan My Street; workers were sprinkling lime powder to contain the smell, but this has not proved very effective.
“The way to my daughter’s school now has become a nightmare,” Huong said.
Those running businesses on the streets where the garbage has been piling up are now facing serious financial difficulties because patrons are avoiding entering their establishments. Meanwhile, the business owners and workers have to put up with the discomfort caused by the stench and hygiene-related health concerns.
Nguyen Van Tuan, owner of a coffee shop on Truong Chinh Street, said he had less than 30 clients during the weekend and none on Monday morning.
“Who can eat or drink with this smell lingering around them?” Tuan asked, wearing a mask in his shop, adding he was worried because while the number of customers dropped his overheads, including rent, are not decreasing.
However, Tuan also added that he was luckier than food vendors on pavements, since their spaces have been invaded by garbage.
“People cannot walk across piles of garbage to buy food or stand there when the trash is right under their feet,” said the owner of a banh mi stall on Tay Son Street, who decided to close her stall Monday afternoon.
Living with trash
Confronted with a predicament they have faced before, Hanoians are finding different ways to cope.
Temporarily moving to their relatives’ or friends’ apartments in high-rise buildings is one solution adopted by many people living close to the piles of garbage.
Last weekend, Trang sent her two children to her sister’s apartment in Long Bien District “so they can get rid of this stink and filth for sometimes” before coming home to go to school.
Some of her elderly neighbors are also considering moving to their children’s places in residential buildings to get away from the garbage.
Many people say they will go to work in taxis instead of motorbikes.
“It will be more expensive and we will have to leave earlier in the morning to avoid traffic jams, but health comes first,” Huong said after her experience of going through Tan My Street with her daughter on Monday.
A long pile of garbage near My Dinh National Stadium forces many passersby to cover their noses on October 26, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Chieu.
Business people, especially running coffee shops or restaurants, have resorted to using more fans for ventilation and letting patrons sit deep inside their houses to keep some kind of income coming in.
Tuan keeps all the fans and air conditioners in the coffee shop on to try and reduce the stink, but the problems remain.
“I have rearranged my living room inside the house, I will let my customers sit there if they come and buy coffee,” he said.
Hanoians are now united by one wish – for the trash to be collected and their ordeal to end.
This is the second time in 2020 and the 15th time in the last several years that Hanoians have suffered as uncollected garbage piled up after people blocked the road to the Nam Son complex in Soc Son District.
Every day, Hanoians generate about 6,500 tons of domestic waste. 5,000 tons are treated at in Nam Son, 1,300 tons at the Xuan Son Plant in Son Tay District, the remaining at other small plants.
On Sunday, Vuong Dinh Hue, the City Party Committee Secretary, instructed concerned authorities to persuade people not to block the road to the treatment plant and support them by providing medical insurance and clean water as also resolving compensation and resettlement issues.
But in the long run, to tackle the issue, Hanoi should use modern technology to treat its garbage, experts say.
Burying garbage in landfills is not an efficient use of space and raises new environmental threats, said Duong Hoang Tung, Deputy Director of the Vietnam Environment Administration under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
The biggest problem in domestic solid waste treatment in Vietnam is that comprehensive measures are not taken. For instance, waste is not sorted at source and recycled to reduce the volume of buried waste, Tung said.
With the waste treatment complex in Nam Son set to run out of space this year, the city has called on enterprises to invest in new technologies to treat and recycle waste to turn waste into useful materials and energy.
According to the city’s construction department, Hanoi is focusing on investing in four hi-tech waste treatment plants in Soc Son, Ba Vi and Chuong My districts. A waste-to-energy plant with a capacity of 4,000 tons per day is under construction in Soc Son.
In the meantime, residents like Quang, Huong, Tuan, and Trang are yearning for a return to normal, when the trash is collected on time and streets are kept clean.
Trang stressed: “I do not want to wear a mask while staying inside my house. I never want that to happen.”