Feature Story

Waste Not, Want Not: Women leaders in Viet Nam address urban waste through innovation & advocacy

June 27, 2018

In Hoi An, Viet Nam, a GEF Small Grants Programme project has worked with the local Women's Union to streamline waste management. The project has been so successful that the commune of Cam Thanh in Hoi An has become exemplar of strategy for addressing urban waste that is now being scaled up at a provincial level.

With over 20 million of visitors per year, the exceptionally well-preserved Southeast Asian trading port city of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is left with the gargantuan task of disposing of 27,000 tons of solid waste per year.

In 2016 alone, over 21 million tourists visited the city of 120,000, or 175 tourists per resident annually. The booming tourism industry produces approximately 75 tonnes of solid waste per day. Problems relating to insufficient collection and improper disposal of this waste had been festering for years.

As a result, the city’s land and streams were increasingly littered, threatening the environment and the health of communities. If not properly contained, eventually the city’s waste finds its way to the oceans - creating global environmental ramifications. 

In 2016 alone, over 21 million tourists visited the city of Hoi An. The booming tourism industry produces approximately 75 tonnes of solid waste per day.

Advocacy & Action

To address this issue, with the support of the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP), Hoi An’s Women’s Union created a long-term waste management plan that fosters the sustainable development of the city while preserving its cultural heritage. In 2010, working in close co-ordination with the Viet Nam Office of Natural Resources and Environment and the Public Works Agency, the Women’s Union piloted a project called “Socialisation of solid waste management in Hoi An".

The project not only successfully established a scheme for collecting, sorting, and disposing of waste in Hoi An, but it gave work to a group of poor women, strengthening the social fabric of the community. ‘In addition to managing the waste, this group of women have become proud advocates for the environment’, said Ms. Le Phuong Duc, Chair of the Hoi An’s Women’s Union.

‘Their contribution to the city is widely recognised, they are very proud of their contribution to protecting the World Heritage site, their home town. This has given them more confidence to become active in their community, forming environmental protection groups’.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Lien, a waste picker, previously found herself unable to get a job, as her ability to do agricultural labor intensive work deteriorated with age. The waste management scheme in Hoi An enabled her to find employment suitable to her needs:

‘My life has changed for the better. Us women are very happy and work hard together. We like our jobs very much’. 

The project not only successfully established a scheme for collecting, sorting, and disposing of waste in Hoi An, but it gave work to a group of poor women, strengthening the social fabric of the community.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Advocacy was another component of the project, and proved to be critical to achieving positive environmental impacts. A campaign on domestic waste management at local cultural events, on radio, and on television - along with a continuous dialogue between the Women’s Union and key stakeholders - has reduced the amount of waste that ends up in landfills by more than 70%.

The change created by the project achieved both environmental and development goals. With the support from the SGP, the commune of Cam Thanh in Hoi An has become an exemplar of strategy for addressing urban waste that is now being scaled up at a provincial level.

Five years later, the project continues to deliver benefits to the women, men, children, and visitors to the city, whilst protecting our global environment.

Now, the waste is sorted into three categories: recyclable, biodegradable, and persistent, and disposed of properly.

Biodegradable waste is composted at the household level and then used by local farmers for sustainable agriculture. Plastic, metal, and other recyclable waste is collected and sold to recycling facilities, while persistent waste is collected and disposed of by the local government. 

With the support from the SGP, the commune of Cam Thanh in Hoi An has become an exemplar of strategy for addressing urban waste that is now being scaled up at a provincial level.

Giving Credit Where It's Due

A revolving credit scheme gave loans to members of the groups and allowed the waste management program to become viable.

These funds allowed for the purchase of necessary equipment including trolleys and bicycles. Under their innovative scheme, the Women’s Union increased the amount of recycled waste as well as their own income.

Through the establishment of coalitions and networks, SGP is linking local experiences on chemicals and wastes and contributing to the global policy dialogue, thereby leading to larger policy impacts. Since 1998, the Small Grants Program has supported more than 150 projects in Viet Nam.

Small Grants = Big Impacts

Since 1998, the Small Grants Program has supported more than 150 projects in Viet Nam.

SGP supports communities to demonstrate, deploy, and transfer innovative tools and approaches for managing harmful chemicals and waste. Citizen awareness and networking at national and global levels are key tools in efforts to secure more environmentally friendly practices and products to reduce the risks of exposure to toxic and hazardous chemicals and waste.

Through the establishment of coalitions and networks, SGP is linking local experiences on chemicals and wastes and contributing to the global policy dialogue, thereby leading to larger policy impacts.

For more information on SGP-supported projects in Viet Nam, visit the SGP Viet Nam Country Page.

For more information on this specific project, please visit the SGP project profile: Socialisation of solid waste management in Hoi An.

Visit the SGP website for details on the overall Small Grants Programme.

This story was originally published by UNDP

Story by Andrea Egan, Ana Maria Currea, UNDP Viet Nam / Photos: © Photos by Ana Maria Currea, SGP and UNDP Viet Nam, additional photos courtesy of United Nations in Viet Nam