Finding the right approach to lower marine plastic pollution

June 07, 2021 | 13:00
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Implementing subprojects of the Rethinking Plastics Project to collect marine litter in Phu Yen and manage ship waste at Cat Lai Port will promote the conservation of the Vietnamese marine environment.
finding the right approach to lower marine plastic pollution
Cat Lai Port will be the testing ground for tried and tested EU practices to enhance port administration, Photo: Saigon New Port

Funded by the European Union and the German federal government, the Rethinking Plastics – Circular Economy Solutions to Marine Litter Project is working on policy development and practical initiatives to reduce plastic waste and marine litter in Vietnam through the promotion of circular economy principles and responsible practices.

Several pilot projects financed under the project test new approaches or implement best practices. Two different but equally important approaches focus on ports and fisheries to address marine litter reduction: Meanwhile, a Fishing for Litter project will mobilise fishermen from Phu Yen province will collect litter from the sea and return it to the land for recycling, and a ship waste management project at Cat Lai will try to enhance port management practices to reduce the illegal dumping of ship waste.

Mobilising responsible fishermen

In mid-May, VIR spoke to Nguyen Tu Cuong, head of the Vietnam Fisheries Society’s Sustainable Fisheries Development Board and an expert collaborating with the Rethinking Plastics Project.

Cuong said, “We are currently preparing information material, protective clothing, and the seine nets that will be used to collect waste by the fishing community. Besides that, we are completing plans to store the marine litter we have collected. For now, we believe the optimal plan is to build plastic waste containers on the coast. We want to be ready once the pandemic has settled down.”

VINAFIS in collaboration with the Department of Science, Technology and International Cooperation of the Directorate of Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development will pilot the local project in Vietnam based on Fishing for Litter schemes deployed across Southeast Asia.

The programme will encourage fishing vessels to collect plastic waste from the sea and return it to the mainland for recycling. It will do this through an extensive communication campaign on the harmful impacts of plastics waste to environment, sea creatures and human beings and the creation of a volunteer movement in the fishing community.

“The Fishing for Litter project is expected to help identify successful practices that can be replicated in other areas and contribute to the implementation of the National Action Plan for Management of Ocean Plastic Waste in the Fishery sector in 2020-2030,” said Fanny Quertamp, national senior advisor at Expertise France, one of the agencies implementing the Rethinking Plastics Project.

According to Cuong, if the project is implemented to plan, Vietnam will become the first country in Asia to provide an accurate report backed up by statistics on the amount of litter on the ocean floor (based on waste collected by fishermen), the volume of waste collected in one trip by the average ship manned by five people, and the waste the average fisherman discharges into the environment each day.

To disseminate the proper methodology to collect and classify ocean waste on fishing boats, the team will conduct a training course for 50 fishermen and establish a team of volunteers with the participation of 30 ships and 150 fishermen.

Besides all these efforts, Cuong highlighted the need to discuss remuneration possibilities in the long term. “We need to consider to pay people for the collection of waste at sea. On land, cleaners have income. Why should we not apply this mechanism for the sea? Moreover, while in the short term it is possible to call for volunteer participation from fishermen, in the long term, they need to focus on their main job of fishing to ensure their families’ livelihood. We can only secure their participation if they are paid for the plastic waste they collect at sea,” Cuong said.

“For now, the project will use part of its budget to cover these payments, but this is only a short-term solution. In the long term, VINAFIS will propose the government to allocate part of the environmental tax income from plastic bags to finance these kind of activities,” he said.

Controlling plastic litter at source

Waste generated on ships around the world is often illegally discharged into the water due to missing efficient collection and clear structures for waste management at ports. This can cause long-term impacts on the environment. Recognising the need for action, Vietnam’s National Action Plan for Management of Marine Plastic Litter by 2030 necessitates the development of efficient waste management systems to collect, sort, and dispose waste and to send it to appropriate facilities for treatment.

One issue with collecting waste at source is that some hazardous waste, banned from being discharged into the sea, must be collected directly at the ports and then sent to the appropriate facilities for treatment. This process needs the involvement of many parties under close supervision by relevant authorities and requires solid planning.

Filling in this spot by aiming to provide crucial policy support is the Rethinking Plastics Project. Expertise France, on behalf of and for the benefit of Vietnam Maritime Administration (Vinamarine), is also currently implementing a ship waste management project in Cat Lai Port in Ho Chi Minh City to come up with best practices that can be replicated across Vietnam’s ports.

Tran Thi Tu Anh, deputy director of the Science, Technology and Environment Department under Vinamarine, said that in its first phase, which was completed in February, the project successfully conducted a technical assessment of the existing management system at the port, along with a review of Vietnamese regulations in the field. This served to identify best practices that have proven effective in EU ports and would fit the Vietnamese context.

The project has recommended to improve the waste notification system through which vessels can report in advance on the type and volume of waste they would deliver to the port reception facility. Additionally, the project has also proposed designing an incentivising cost recovery system (waste fee) and preparing a ship waste management manual to offer guidance for vessel operators and other stakeholders.

The key tasks of the second phase of the pilot project will be compiled based on recommendations put forth during a workshop, which took place in January. The recommendations include upgrading the online waste notification processes at Vinamarine Ho Chi Minh City (digitalising the process and applying a more informative waste notification form), training stakeholder staff, and circulating the ship waste management manual, which contains all relevant information and exiting procedures.

The results of the second phase will serve as a basis for proposing amendments to Vietnam’s current legal framework on ship waste management. Upon successful implementation, the project and Vinamarine will prepare a concrete action plan for the dissemination of lessons learned from Cat Lai Terminal to other Vietnamese ports.

By Ha Vy

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