In Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, a carton recycling operation, aims to collect and recycle 3,000 tons of discarded beverage cartons. Tetra Pak and Circular Action are implementing the program with the help of the Packaging Recycling Organization (PRO) Vietnam, a partnership of Vietnamese consumer goods and packaging companies. The program will last from April 2022 until March 2023.
The program intends to work with informal waste collectors to collect beverage cartons and resell them to Dong Tien Paper Factory, who would recycle them into new products. In addition, Tetra Pak has invested 1.2 billion EUR in the factory to increase beverage recycling capacity by early 2022.
The program began by providing incentives to larger waste aggregators, and local pickers profit from greater prices paid for carton materials. Presently, vehicles travel throughout the city advertising fixed rates at which waste collectors can sell these beverage cartons. The program uses the Circular Action KOLEKT App to track the collection of these cartons, adding a digital component to the program.
The project has currently purchased the first of ten vans that will visit Ho Chi Minh City to collect beverage cartons. Trash pickers were no longer required to deliver cartons to directly to aggregators, allowing the potential daily collection capacity to grow from 150kg to 837kgs per day.
With the introduction of the vehicles, the number of cartons collected gradually increased. For the first week, each load per truck weighed only 60 to 80 kg. After two weeks, the figure had risen to 200-300 kilos each load. This also suggests that waste collectors are now attempting to gather and flatten more beverage cartons, thereby increasing the amount the truck can carry each time it arrives.
The project expects to impact more than 200 waste pickers in earning additional income and 3000 tons of used beverage cartons recycled.
The volume of beverage cartons consumed but not recycled is a major issue in Vietnam. In the last ten years, the volume of milk consumed in the country has nearly doubled, thus the amount of milk cartons produced by Tetra Pak has also increased. However, numerous layers of different materials make up these beverage cartons and are extremely difficult to recycle. Because these Tetra Paks are cheap in value, waste collectors do not collect them, and they end up mismanaged and in the water. The program aims to begin recycling these beverage cartons, while also providing extra pay to waste pickers who previously could not earn from collecting them.
A challenge faced by the program was transitioning from a top-down to bottom-up approach due to local considerations. Initially, subsidies were provided to local waste aggregators. However, local aggregators did not fairly distribute the subsidy upstream to collection centers and waste pickers. Despite the subsidies, these local aggregators were not going out of their way to collect additional carton beverages. As a result, the project shifted tactics to a bottom-up strategy, with trucks driving around the city directly collecting material from scavengers. They also offered a financial incentive to flatten the cartons before selling them, enabling for more cartons to be collected per load.
The program had to be adaptable to local circumstances and lessons were learned while implementing their initial plans. They were able to develop and apply another approach that brought them closer to their goal of increasing the number of carton beverages recycled while generating additional income for local waste pickers. It is a lesson for others wishing to implement an initiative: learn the requirements of the community and be ready to alter the programme to better match local circumstance. Lessons can be learnt from this program in being willing to change strategies during the implementation stage in order to achieve the goal.