Vietnam getting thrown on the scrap heap

In the wake of China saying no more scrap imports from January 1 this year, Vietnam became a hot destination for scrap, with several enterprises hoping to cash in and make a quick buck.

At the end of May, as many as 28,000 containers were stuck at seaports along Vietnam, including 6,700 in Hai Phong, the major port in the north, 14,600 in Ho Chi Minh City, and more than 6,500 in the city’s neighboring Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, according to the Vietnam Maritime Association.

For the most part, the containers are full of plastic and paper scrap, as also used electronics device and components.

At the Cat Lai Port, a major terminal in HCMC, a third of more than 8,000 containers of paper and plastic scrap have been stuck for more than three months.

This overload of scrap imports has happened because of the eagerness to step in and make a quick buck as China closed its doors. Once the importer of as much has half of the world’s scrap, the east Asian giant finally began tackling its huge environmental impacts, and stopped imports early this year.

The Xinhua news agency reported that the Chinese government launched an environmental crackdown early last year, registering 233,000 environment pollution cases, a 69 percent increase over 2016.

With plentiful supply, importers in Vietnam, including smugglers, decided to buy as much as they could, hoping to earn easy profits by selling the scrap to producers who would use them as raw material.

Dinh Ngoc Thang, head of the customs department in Ho Chi Minh City, told Thanh Nien newspaper that the current stockpile of scrap in Vietnamese terminals was a result of smuggling and fraud.

Many importers did not have an official license or their licenses had already expired, so customs officials could not approve the shipment and the scrap got stuck at the ports, Thang said.

But it looks as though neither the importers nor the smugglers want to collect their cargo, leaving officials holding the baby.

Phung Chi Sy, general secretary Vietnam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment’s southern office, said if no companies showed up to claim their imports, the customs department will have to deal with the scrap themselves. What can be recycled for production can be auctioned, but those that are contaminated with toxic substances, violating Vietnam’s environment standards, the importers will be fined and forced to re-export their cargo.

And for the scrap that does not belong to either category, it is possible that Vietnam will have to use its own funds to treat the waste, Sy said.

Sy’s concerns are well founded. Nguyen Quang Tuan, a representative from the Saigon New Port Corporation, told VnExpress that “the fee for storing goods at ports for a long period is really high and several companies have decided to just dump the goods instead of showing up to claim them.”

Belated recognition

Last Friday, the General Department of Customs wrote to city and provincial authorities demanding that they tighten control over scrap imports.

The demand came after the customs department of HCMC reported that more than 985 containers have been stuck in the city’s ports for 30-90 days and 2,255 others have been there for even longer.

All of them contain scrap materials that are already banned in Vietnam. Importers fraudulently changed the customs codes to smuggled them into the country.

The Saigon New Port Corporation, currently the biggest container terminal operator in Vietnam, announced late last month that the two terminals it operates, also the two biggest seaports in the south, Cai Lai and Hiep Phuoc, will stop receiving plastic scrap from June 1 to September 30.

At a parliament session in Hanoi on June 6, Tran Hong Ha, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, said Vietnam has to start saying no to scrap imports[1] because the country is not able to deal properly with solid waste.

In the first quarter alone, Vietnam imported 1.3 million tons of steel scrap worth $462.2 million, up 31.3 percent in volume and 68.7 percent in value against the same period last year.

Ha said his ministry would review the list of all types of scrap currently allowed to enter Vietnam to see which can and cannot be recycled. It will devise a “proper” solution after the review, the minister added.


  1. ^ saying no to scrap imports (