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Environ Monit Assess (2011) 175:2335

DOI 10.1007/s10661-010-1490-8

Assessment of plastic waste generation

and its potential recycling of household
solid waste in Can Tho City, Vietnam
Nguyen Phuc Thanh Yasuhiro Matsui
Takeshi Fujiwara

Received: 21 August 2009 / Accepted: 20 April 2010 / Published online: 20 May 2010
Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Abstract Plastic solid waste has become a serious

problem when considering the disposal alternatives following the sequential hierarchy of sound
solid waste management. This study was undertaken to assess the quantity and composition of
household solid waste, especially plastic waste to
identify opportunities for waste recycling. A 1month survey of 130 households was carried out
in Can Tho City, the capital city of the Mekong
Delta region in southern Vietnam. Household
solid waste was collected from each household and classified into ten physical categories;
especially plastic waste was sorted into 22 subcategories. The average household solid waste generation rate was 281.27 g/cap/day. The compostable
and recyclable shares respectively accounted for
high percentage as 80.74% and 11%. Regarding
plastic waste, the average plastic waste generation rate was 17.24 g/cap/day; plastic packaging
and plastic containers dominated with the high
percentage, 95.64% of plastic waste. Plastic shopping bags were especially identified as the major
component, accounting for 45.72% of total plastic
waste. Relevant factors such as household income

N. P. Thanh (B) Y. Matsui T. Fujiwara

Graduate School of Environmental Science,
Okayama University, Japan 3-1-1 Tsushima-naka,
Okayama 700-8530, Japan

and household size were found to have an existing

correlation to plastic waste generation in detailed
composition. The household habits and behaviors
of plastic waste discharge and the aspects of environmental impacts and resource consumption
for plastic waste disposal alternatives were also
Keywords Plastic waste Household solid waste
Plastics recycling Generation rate
Physical composition

The rapid population growth and expanding urbanization have caused the increase of the waste
generation and the variety of waste composition. Many cities and towns in developing countries face serious environmental degradation and
health risks due to the weak solid waste management. For effective planning of waste management, the importance of elucidating reliable
information on both the quantity and the composition of municipal solid waste (MSW), especially of household solid waste (HSW), has been
recognized (Dennison et al. 1996a; McDougall
et al. 2001). Many previous studies have examined HSW generation and physical HSW composition. Ojeda-Benitez et al. (2003), Alhumoud
et al. (2007), and Qu et al. (2009) analyzed HSW


Environ Monit Assess (2011) 175:2335


Mekong Delta region (including12 provinces and

one city) in southern Vietnam. Can Tho City
(CTC) was chosen as the representative model
for the Mekong Delta region. CTC has four central districts and four rural districts, with an estimated population of 1,154,900 in 2007 and an
area of 139 km2 (GSO 2007a). For this study,
the authors specifically investigated four central
districts of CTC-Ninh Kieu District (13 wards),
Binh Thuy District (six wards), Cai Rang District
(seven wards), and O Mon district (six wards)which collectively include 32 wards (GSO 2007b).
The daily estimated MSW collection rate in CTC
is 250300 tons/day. Furthermore, the waste collection is about 70% for four central districts by
Urban Environment Company (URENCO 2008).
The authors intended to estimate the average
situation of four central districts of CTC. For
sampling, the authors designed to choose 70% of
samples in the wards with waste collection service,
and 30% of samples in the wards without waste
collection service. The sampling points (SPs) were
selected considering their respective geographical
distribution; the authors chose 13 wards (SPs),
from a total of 32 wards, as 5, 3, 3, and 2 wards,
respectively, from the districts Ninh Kieu, Binh
Thuy, Cai Rang, and O Mon.
Ten households were selected from each SP,
and the total sample size of the survey was 130
households, including 40 households (31%) without waste collection service. Figure 1 portrays a
map of CTC with the location of 13 SPs.
In earlier reports of the relevant literature, the
household size affected waste discharge amounts
(Dennison et al. 1996b and Bandara et al. 2007).
Therefore, the authors selected target households
according to the share of household size in CTC.
At each SP (each chosen ward), ten households
were chosen based on the share of four household
size categories; as 15%, 45%, 35%, and 5%, respectively, for 12, 34, 57, and 8 and more residents. The household size category followed the
population distribution category in the statistics in
Can Tho City (GSO 2006).

Organization of samples

Classification of fraction

This study estimated the HSW generation, especially plastic waste of the capital city of the

Following the requirements of the studys objectives, the classification categories of waste were

generation to identify the potentials for compostable waste and recyclable waste.
Since the 1950s, one billion tons of plastic has
been discarded and may persist for hundreds or
even thousands of years (Weisman 2007); this has
become a common problem in the last decades.
There are many recycling and recovery routes
of plastic solid waste; chemical recycling (including pyrolysis, gasification, and hydrogenation)
through which plastics can be broken back down
to a feedstock state and energy recovery by plastic
waste combustion as other fuel sources (Al-Salem
et al. 2009). Recently, many studies have focused
on plastic waste; Subramanian (2000) studied on
the recycling and recovery routes of plastic waste
and Chung (2008) assessed the reliability of selfreported waste disposal data using plastic bag
waste. They also pointed out the considerable contribution of plastic fraction and the urgent need
for the proper management of waste plastics.
A national report (Worldbank et al. 2004) presented outline information related to MSW management in Vietnam; the plastic waste accounted
for the considerable portion of MSW. Besides,
open dumping is the main disposal method (Idris
et al. 2004). Moreover, the strategies for recycling
and disposal of plastic waste at local level and
central level have not been developed.
In this study, the authors estimated the HSW
generation rate and detailed composition in the
central city of the Mekong Delta region to identify
opportunities for waste recycling, especially for
plastic waste. The authors analyzed the current
status of plastic waste stream and the household
habits and behaviors related to plastic waste discharge. The relevant effect factors to plastic waste
generation were also carried out. Furthermore,
the potential for recycling plastic HSW, the aspects of energy recovery potential, environmental impacts, and resource consumption of plastic
waste disposal alternatives were also evaluated.

Environ Monit Assess (2011) 175:2335


Fig. 1 Map of Can Tho

City with detailed
locations of sampling
points. Source: Google
maps (edited by the

developed to provide detailed information on

waste composition. Therefore, it was necessary
to clarify details of the composition of HSW,
such as the relative shares of recyclable and compostable wastes, their usage function and purpose, discharge source, and hazardous wastes.
The authors referred the categories reported
from some previous relevant studies as Tanikawa
(2000), Ojeda-Benitez et al. (2003), Kawai (2007),
Burnley et al. (2007), Dahln and Lagerkvist
(2008), and Gomez et al. (2008). A table was
prepared showing classification categories of ten
physical categories (physical compositions; see
Table 1) and 22 subcategories (detailed physical
compositions) for plastic waste (see Table 2).

Survey framework
Sample collection was conducted in two stages of
surveys: the questionnaire survey and waste generation survey. The questionnaire survey carried

out on randomly selected households in chosen

areas for getting required information and household selection. The selected respondents of the
questionnaire survey should be a household member, who is responsible for discharging or recycling
HSW. After the questionnaire survey, the proper
households based on household size category

Table 1 Household sold waste generation in amounts and

percentage (wet weight)



Food waste
Rubber and leather
Grass and wood





Environ Monit Assess (2011) 175:2335

Table 2 Plastic waste generation by subcategories in

amounts and percentage (wet weight)
Plastic bottles for beverage
Plastic bottles for food
Plastic bottles for non-food/
PET bottles for beverage
PET bottles for food
PET bottles for non-food/
Foam tray
Other tray
Plastic containers for food
Plastic containers for
Plastic tubes for food
Plastic tubes for non-food
Plastic packaging for food
Plastic packaging for
Plastic packaging for
unspecified purpose
Plastic shopping bags
Buffer materials
Plastic rope
Other containers and
Durable products
Consumable products
Other plastics






























as above-mentioned (Section Organization of

samples) were chosen for participation in the
waste generation survey.
Regarding the waste generation survey, a
short training about survey procedure, waste
separation, explanation, certain rules for waste
collecting, classifying, and quantifying to each
households members was carried out. The waste
generation survey was conducted to acquire data
on the composition and discharge amount of
waste generated from the households for 30 days
from February to March 2009. To make sure that
the households members could follow and cover
the survey proceeding, a 3-day pre-survey was
performed before the 30-day main survey.

The target households were provided with colored transparent plastic bags of two kinds for
waste disposal. Households were requested to
keep and separate their waste into biodegradable wastes and non-biodegradable wastes.
Biodegradable wastes and non-biodegradable
wastes were collected, respectively, every day and
every week.
Regarding waste quantification, biodegradable
wastes were sorted and weighed at the households house. Meanwhile, non-biodegradable
wastes were sorted into appropriated items of
classification categories and weighed in the laboratory. The weights were recorded as wet weight
with a digital scale measuring a minimum of
1 gram (g).
Furthermore, a questionnaire survey was conducted with a face-to-face interview at households
to obtain data reflecting demographic characteristic, socio-economic information, habits of recyclable waste discharge, and household attitude.
A questionnaire survey of recyclable-junk buyers
and recycling depots was also conducted to collect
information about transaction price and recycling
potential of recyclable waste.
Analytical procedure
The authors calculated key statistics related to
plastic waste generation rates by subcategory. The
authors also assessed correlations between the
plastic waste generation rates of each subcategory,
in addition to relevant factors such as household
size, and income levels using ANOVA and rank
correlation analysis. Software (SPSS ver. 15.0;
SPSS Inc.) was applied for statistical analyses.

Results and discussion

Household waste generation and composition
The average and standard deviation of the HSW
generation rate by physical category are shown in
Table 1.
The average of total HSW generation in CTC
was 281.27 g/cap/day for an average of 4.52 residents per household. This generation rate was

Environ Monit Assess (2011) 175:2335

similar to the study result of Sujauddin et al.

(2007) in Chittagong, Bangladesh with the generation rate of 250 g/cap/day; although it was lower
than in the south and west Asian cities with the
generation rate of 500 to 800 g/cap/day (International Environmental Technology Center 1996).
Regarding the compostable potential of HSW
in CTC, the result showed that compostable
waste constituted a significant fraction of the total
(227.09 g/cap/day, 80.74 %; a total of compostable
food waste and garden waste excluding hard
bones/shells). In comparison to the biodegradable
generation rate in HSW of other cities of developing countries, the generation rate of biodegradable waste found in this study was little higher
than others, such as 156.5 g/cap/day in Beijing,
China (Qu et al. 2009) and 137.5 g/cap/day in Cap
Haitain, Haiti (Philippe and Culot 2009). However, this result was little similar to 224.4 g/cap/day
in Siem Reap, Cambodia (Parizeau et al. 2006).
The huge generation rate of food waste was
partly because households had a habit of cooking
their own meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner
every day. The results of the questionnaire survey showed that the households members have
a habit of taking their meal at home, as 59.4%,
81.3%, 86.2%, and 15.2%, respectively, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper. And, another possible reason may be, Vietnamese people prefer
food that is unprocessed and un-packaged. It is
suggested that composting is a potential option
for promoting waste reduction and recycling of
biodegradable waste generated from households.
The results showed that HSW in CTC also
contained a large share of recyclable wasteapproximately 11%. The results showed that the
plastic fraction appropriated for the most part
of total recyclable waste (approximately 50%),
followed by paper, whereas metals and glass accounted for low share of recyclable waste.

Plastic generation and contribution

Table 1 shows that the average generation rate
of the household plastic waste in CTC was
17.24 g/cap/day. Regarding the composition distribution of plastic waste illustrated in Fig. 2, it is
apparent that plastic packaging and plastic con-




Other plastics
Plastic bottles
PET bottles

Other containers
and packaging


Plastic packaging

Fig. 2 Composition distribution of plastic waste

tainers were the most numerous plastics generated, accounting for a high percentage (95.64%);
plastic packaging especially appropriated for the
most share of plastic waste (73.09%). The remaining consisted of plastic products with 5.20%
(including single-use products, 1.48%) and plastic
miscellaneous (0.16%).
For estimating the major component of plastic
waste generation in CTC, plastic packaging and
bags were chosen as the prior estimation. In this
study, plastic packaging was defined in many kinds
of plastic bags; (1) manufacturers plastic bags
which enclose the products from the manufacturers (in this study, it includes (a) plastic packaging
for food or beverage and (b) plastic packaging for
non-food and non-beverage); (2) plastic shopping
bags that are used very popularly in Vietnam,
given free of charge while purchasing at supermarkets, normal markets, self-owned shops, vendors,
etc.; and (3) plastic packaging for general purpose
which used to contain the goods or products that
are unprocessed or un-packagedthe distributors
or retailers distribute these goods and products
into smaller portions from the large containers or
packaging of the manufacturers by smaller plastic
packaging for easy retail.
The distribution of plastic waste by subcategories in plastic fraction and total waste, respectively, are presented in Table 2 and Fig. 3.
This shows the overview of discharge flow, detailed composition of plastic waste based on types,
purposes, functions, compostable, and recyclable


Environ Monit Assess (2011) 175:2335

Fig. 3 Outline of plastic

waste distribution in CTC

[ ] : Percentage of item in total HSW generated

[0.319] Products
[6.13] Plastic

[5.80] Containers

[0.228] Durable
[0.091] Single-use
[0.646] Bottles
[0.095] Trays
[0.217] Containers
[0.085] Tubes

[0.010] Other

characteristics. The data are also expected to be

useful for decision makers, researchers, manufacturers, consumers, and recycling companies to
develop the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle) promotion program for the largest recyclable source,
plastic waste. Table 2 shows that plastic shopping
bags appropriated for almost half of the total plastic waste, approximately 45.72%; following the
plastic packaging group, such as plastic packaging
for general purpose (13.23%), plastic packaging
for food (8.92%), and plastic packaging for nonfood (5.22%). Whereas other subcategories accounted for a very low percentage (each subcategory appropriated less than 4%).
Through the findings from the survey, it is
identified that plastic packaging and bags are
the major component of plastic waste generation, especially plastic shopping bags. The results
showed that the average generation rate of plastic
shopping bags was 7.89 g/cap/day and the average numbers of plastic bags generated as 1.05
pieces/cap/day. The density of this item was also
light, 7.43 g/piece of bag. This situation has issued
a challenge for the MSW management related to
collection, treatment, and disposal alternatives of
plastic packaging and bags due to huge numbers
and few densities.
Relevant factors on plastic waste generation
Various authors have pointed out that some
socio-economic and demographic characteristics
of households affected waste generation rates of
total and its compositions (Dennison et al. 1996a,
b, Gomez et al. 2008, Bandara et al. 2007, and

[4.442] Packaging
[0.315] Other

[0.195] Beverage
[0.194] Food
[0.406] PET

[0.017] Non-food

[0.240] Plastic

[0.033] Beverage
[0.040] Food
[0.167] Non-food

[0.128] Food
[0.089] Non-food
[0.547] Food
[0.320] Non-food
[0.811] Unspecified-purpose
[2.764] Shopping bags

Qu et al. 2009). In this study, the authors also

analyzed the correlations between plastic waste
generation rates by subcategory and factors such
as household size and income level.
Household size
Plastic HSW generation rate (in g/cap/day) of
subcategories by household size was presented in
Table 3. The average rate of smallest household
size category, two residents per household, was
the highest (25.17 g/cap/day), and the rate got
lower as the household size got larger.
Table 3 also showed the results of ANOVA
analysis and rank correlation analysis by the
household size. The result of ANOVA analysis
indicated that significant average differences were
found on plastic bottle for food/beverage ( p <
0.001), plastic bottle for non-food/beverage ( p <
0.05), PET bottle for food/beverage and nonfood/beverage ( p < 0.05), plastic container for
non-food/beverage ( p < 0.05), plastic packaging
for non-food/beverage ( p < 0.05), plastic packaging for unspecified purpose ( p < 0.001), plastic
shopping bag ( p < 0.01), number of packaging
( p < 0.001), and total plastic ( p < 0.001) by the
household size. Regarding the rank correlation
analysis, the results indicated that there were negative correlations between waste generation rates
of PET bottle for food/beverage ( p < 0.01), plastic packaging for unspecified purpose ( p < 0.001),
plastic shopping bag ( p < 0.001), number of packaging ( p < 0.001), and total plastic ( p < 0.001)
and the household size. The results of this study
were consistent with previous studies on HSW



2.34 2.88
1.46 0.92
1.38 0.7
1.09 0.85

0.91 1.13
0.6 0.51
1.37 3.02
0.41 0.25

3.67 2.59
2.49 1.28
1.66 1.54
1.18 0.83

10.7 6.19
9.17 8.09
5.34 4.59
5.19 5.28

1.72 0.97



correlation analysis by Kendalls tau-b






0.27 0.51 0.55 0.85 1.36 1.76 0.09 0.25 0.53 0.69 0.45 0.85 2.32 2.95 1.83 3.29 3.2 2.54

1.57 1.19 1.4 2.74


1.1 1.89
0.66 1.28
0.52 0.97
0.17 0.22



0.33 0.41
0.29 0.32
0.19 0.32
0.21 0.16



25.17 12.9
18.55 11.28
13.51 7.66
9.62 6.72

Total plastic

0.91 0.46 0.52 0.71 0.16 0.14 14.88 6.56

1.14 0.91 0.75 1.4 0.23 0.38 15.69 10.49

1.11 0.75 0.48 1.04 0.27 0.29 16.43 10.98


1.71 1.1
1.23 0.66
0.8 0.43
0.66 0.38

of Bag






10.38 6.86 1.32 0.71 1.08 1.97 0.39 0.47 24.5 13.9

6.32 4.24


0.36 0.72
0.32 1.4
0.17 0.38
0.02 0.03

0.21 0.37 0.45 0.84 0.92 1.05 0.06 0.23 0.19 0.26 0.1 0.28



0.76 1.48
0.29 0.37
0.34 0.49
0.08 0.08

7.3 5.47
7.8 8.26



0.12 0.27
0.01 0.05
0.06 0.19
0.04 0.07

1.9 1.86
1.15 1.2
0.79 1.36
0.53 0.6

0.31 0.49 0.44 0.69 0.83 0.98 0.03 0.07 0.44 1.12 0.16 0.27 1.26 0.76 0.47 0.44 2.41 2.3
0.13 0.27 0.47 0.88 1.23 1.57 0.04 0.11 0.34 0.52 0.3 1.39 1.41 0.67 0.59 0.91 2.15 1.17

0.8 1.16
0.59 0.92
0.27 0.43
0.09 0.2

0.52 0.61
0.13 0.29
0.19 0.36
0.05 0.05

< 0.05; p < 0.01; p < 0.001

a Rank

Household size
12 members
34 members
57 members
>8 members
F value
Income level
500, 001
>1,500 001
F value

Plastic bottle
PET bottle
Plastic container
Plastic packaging
Non Food/ Food/
Non Food/ Food/
Non Food/ Food/
Non Food/ Unspecified Shopping
beverage beverage beverage beverage beverage beverage beverage beverage purpose

Table 3 Mean analysis, ANOVA analysis, and rank correlation analysis of plastic waste subcategories vs. various parameters

Environ Monit Assess (2011) 175:2335



Environ Monit Assess (2011) 175:2335

Table 4 The transaction price of plastic waste

such as Dennison et al. (1996a, b) and Bandara

et al. (2007), pointing out that the HSW generation rate was negatively correlated with the
household size.

Income level
Regarding understanding the effect of plastic
waste generation rate and its detail components
by household income level, the authors analyzed
the correlation between the plastic waste generation rate and the income level. The income level
was defined into four categories based on the
quartile analysis of survey samples; lower than
500,000, 500,000 to lower than 1,000,000, 1,000,000
to lower than 1,500,000, and 1,500,000 and more
VND/cap/month.The exchange rate of VND in
USD was 17,500 VND/USD at the survey time.
Table 3 showed the average of plastic HSW
generation rate by the subcategory among the
income level and the results of ANOVA analysis and rank correlation analysis. The result of
ANOVA analysis indicated that significant average differences were found mainly on plastic packaging such as plastic packaging for nonfood/beverage, plastic packaging for unspecified
purpose, plastic shopping bag, number of packaging, and plastic durable product ( p < 0.05) by
the income level. Regarding the rank correlation
analysis, the results indicated that there were positive correlations between waste generation rates
of plastic packaging for non-food/beverage ( p <
0.01) and total plastic ( p < 0.05) and the income
level. This result was similar to other studies on
HSW by other authors, such as Bandara et al.
(2007) and Dennison et al. (1996a), presenting
that the household with higher income level generated larger amount of HSW.
Fig. 4 Household habits
of plastic waste discharge


Buying price 1000VND/kg

Junk buyer

PET bottles
Plastic bottles
Durable products
Single-use products
Plastic bags (transparence)
Plastic shopping bags
Other plastics


Existing household habits and behaviors

of plastic waste discharge
The recyclable alternatives of the HSW were recovered in four ways: (1) reusing by householders, (2) selling to recycling system agents such as
depots or junk buyers, (3) discharging into the
usual HSW stream, and (4) burning as a treatment
method for reducing and eliminating the volume
of waste discharge.
A questionnaire survey was conducted to
examine the habits households of recyclable
waste discharge, especially plastic waste. Figure 4
presents results of our study of household habits
related to plastic waste discharge. Among all plastic wastes, plastic containers and plastic bottles
accounted for the most recycling, the percentage
of respondents who answered that they kept them
for selling was 70%, while 26% of respondents
stated that they immediately discharged them
into the usual HSW stream, and a small percentage of respondents opined that they reused or
burned them as a treatment method for HSW discharge. Whereas the percentages of respondents
answered that they kept plastic packaging and
bags for discharging were high (61%). This might
be attributable to the low transaction prices (see
Table 4) and their dirtiness for plastic packaging
and bags.





Keep for selling













Environ Monit Assess (2011) 175:2335

As an interesting finding in this study, plastic

packaging and bags accounted for the main share
of plastic waste, although they were less recoverable and more dischargeable compared with
others (see Fig. 4). Regarding that, some possible explanations for the lower participation are
that the households have been reluctant to store
plastic recyclable waste that is much lighter by
weight than other recycling waste. Moreover, it
takes much time to store sufficient amounts that
could be sold. A second explanation is that plastic
recyclable wastes are generally dirtier; households
did not want to keep them in their houses for long
periods because of the bad smell. A third possible reason is that the transaction price of plastic
packaging and bags is low. The price of recyclable
waste is apparently the primary motivation for
households recycling activities (see Table 4).
At the time of writing this paper, retailers
in Vietnam provide their customers with plastic
bags free of charge to carry their purchases. It is
forecasted that plastic packaging, especially plastic shopping bags may become a serious fraction
in HSW of CTC found in this study. Moreover,
this survey desires to emphasize on the avoidable
plastic waste, especially packaging and bags generated from the household. A short questionnaire
with four statements was prepared, that would be
read to respondents, and their answers should be
focused on the frequencies of recycling activities
as usually, sometime, seldom, and never.
The questionnaire contents and respondents responses are presented in the Table 5.
Results of the survey showed that the majority of the respondents neglected plastic packaging and bags avoidable waste. It was found that
about 54% of the respondents never brought
their bags to avoid receiving plastic packaging and
bags when they went shopping and about 59%
of respondents also never refused plastic packaging and bags when they bought commodities
and foods (see Table 5). Regarding the containers
and packaging avoidance, the purchase behaviors of households influenced for this avoidable
waste. Especially in the foods-purchasing behavior, results showed that respondents used to buy
fresh foods without containers, packaging, or trays
more than others with the frequency of 48% and
20% as usually and sometime, respectively;

Table 5 Questionnaire contents on waste recycling activities and its response

Response of householders (%)

Usually Sometime Seldom Never

Bringing his/her own 18

bags and avoid
receiving plastic
Refusing packaging/ 10
bags when he/she
buy commodities
and foods
Buying fresh foods
without packaging
rather than foods
with packaging
Using products made 9
from recycling













this was a positive habit for reducing the avoidable

waste of plastic packaging and bags.
However, the household consumption behavior
of products and goods, made by recycling plastic was very low through the statement using
products made from recycling plastic. The percentages of respondents who answered that they
used products made from recycling plastic were
very low, as 9%, 30%, 27%, and 34%, respectively, for usually, sometime, seldom, and
never. This presents that the current consumption behavior of households on products made
from recycling plastic was limited. It should be
improved in order to keep the balance state of the
recycling flow to motivate the recycling sectors to
increase recycling activities.
Energy and environmental aspects of plastic
waste recycling and disposal
Energy recovery potential of plastic waste
For simple understanding, energy recovery is implied burning waste to produce energy in the form
of heat, steam, and electricity. This is only considered a very sensible way of waste treatment. The
heating value of HSW is a very important factor to
determine the potential for use in waste-to-energy


Environ Monit Assess (2011) 175:2335

Table 6 Calorific value of some major plastics compared

with common fuels

Calorific value (MJ/kg)

Gas oil
Heavy old
Household plastic waste mixture


Source: Osborn (1985) and Mastellone (1999)

Plastic wastes produced a very high calorific

value when burned. Table 6 illustrated the
calorific value of a number of single-polymer
plastics compared to oil. Producing water and
carbon-dioxide upon combustion made them similar to other petroleum-based fuels (Dirks 1996).
Since the heating value of plastics was high; they
made a convenient energy source. Moreover, it
was considered that incineration of plastic waste
resulted in a volume reduction of 9099%; and
it could be considered as a renewable energy
source under certain constraints of feed preparations. However, the energy recovery process
of plastic waste released many environmental
concerns; mainly, emission of air pollutants such
as COx , NOx , SOx , volatile organic compounds
(VOCs), smoke (particulate matter), particulatebound heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans
(PCDFs), hydrogen fluoride (HF), dioxins, and

furans (Al-Salem et al. 2009 and McDougall et al.

Regarding MSW, the evaluation heating value
from physical and chemical properties of MSW
has been developed by several researchers.
Kathirvale et al. (2003) presumed the energy
conversion potential of MSW in Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia as 6.4511.05 MJ/kg of MSW; AbuQudais and Abu-Qdais (2000) estimated that the
energy content in Jordan was 11.5 MJ/kg of MSW,
and Lin (1998) also reported that the heat value of
MSW in Taipei, Taiwan at incineration plant was
higher than 7.12 MJ/kg of MSW.
Described above, plastic wastes were known as
the materials containing high energy content.
Environmental impacts by plastic waste disposal
There are a lot of alternatives for plastic waste
disposal. Mlgaard (1995) conducted a research
to estimate the environmental impacts for six
different disposal alternatives of the plastic fraction in MSW. The following disposal processes
were studied: (1) material recycling with separation based on vision or chemical analysis, (2)
material recycling with separation based on selective dissolution, (3) material recycling without
separation of the plastic waste, (4) pyrolysis, (5)
incineration with heat recovery, and (6) landfill.
Results of environmental impacts in that research
was encoded in the qualitative scale as illustrated
in Table 7. The negative symbol () indicated
that the environmental impacts saved by the disposal process were larger than the environmental

Table 7 Environmental impacts of six disposal processes

Environmental impacts

Recycling vision Recycling
Recycling non- Pyrolysis (4) Incineration Landfilling (6)
or chemical
separation (3)
with heat
separation (1) separation (2)
recovery (5)

Global warming
Stratospheric ozone deletion
Nutrient enrichment (nitrogen)
Nutrient enrichment (phosphor)
Photochemical ozone formation
Solid waste (volume)
Resource consumption


Mlgaard (1995)





+ + ++



Environ Monit Assess (2011) 175:2335

impacts emitted from the process, thereby the

process had a positive effect on the environment,
and vice versa. The amount of environmental
impacts was presented by the number of symbols within the comparison among six disposal
Except for the solid waste effects, the recycling
with separation based on either vision/chemical
analysis (1) or selective dissolution (2) were the
most environmentally sound processes. Pyrolysis (4) and material recycling without separation (3) were not only environmentally friendly
processes but also resource-consuming processes
compared to the other processes. The incineration
process (5) had a very low solid waste effect,
while landfilling (6) accounted for the most of this
effect. Although the solid waste effect is not a very
important environmental impact, it is assumed
only to be related to area degradation.
Therefore, within the estimation of environmental impacts and resource consumption, the
disposal processes are ranked priority in order as
(2), (1), (5), (6), (4), and (3), respectively.
For supporting the separation of waste plastics
by material, the Society of the Plastics Industry
suggested a now-familiar scheme by plastic identif ication code (PIC) system, which is a set of
symbols placed on plastics to identify the plastic
type. In this scheme, there are seven groups of
plastic polymers with specific properties. However, in Vietnam, the PIC has been rarely marked
on the plastic disposable items; this is the barrier
for recycling facilities of plastic wastes.
Challenge and opportunity for plastic waste
This survey found that plastic fraction accounted
for the large share of total recyclable waste (approximately 50%). Otherwise, plastic wastes were
identified as the materials contained high energy
content. However, following the estimation of environmental impacts and resource consumption,
the recycling with separation as vision or chemical analysis or selective dissolution was identified as the most environmentally sound recycling
method. For establishing a sustainable society, a
3R approach, with a sequential hierarchy of solid
waste management as source reduction, reuse,


and recycling (Tadesse et al. 2007), the waste

separation at the source should be proposed.
From which, recyclable wastes could be recycled
by suitable disposals, such as composting versus
compostable waste, recycling with separation as
above-mentioned versus plastic waste, etc.
In addition, the information of plastic waste
composition from the survey could be combined
with the current status of household habits and
behaviors for plastic waste recycling, presented
in Fig. 4 and Table 5 to support decision makers, authorities, and planners of municipalities to
develop effective 3R promotion programs. For
further direction, the Vietnamese government and
environmental authorities should set up the waste
source separation approach as an alternative for
the currently commingled collection. Regarding
recyclable waste, especially plastic packaging and
bags, the central government should combine with
decision makers, authorities, and planners of municipalities to conduct some action plans, such as
(1) establishing policies, legal, and strategies to
encourage and promote the citizens for mitigating the avoidable waste and increasing recycling
activities, especially to apply the PIC system in
plastics; (2) setting up the network of recycling
depots and recycling shops where recyclable-junk
buyers, waste collectors, waste picker, etc. could
sell their collection; or (3) subsidizing recycling
facilities, such as keeping market price of recyclable wastes, supporting recycling enterprises, industries, etc. These are as the first steps needed
for developing a source separation system. Otherwise, the recyclable waste separation at source via
junk buyers should be inherited; this is a cheap
and sensible alternative and promises a large potential for expanding of this service. In addition,
Vietnam, with a large human resource of cheap
labor, promises the huge potential for applying
the partially centralized manual separation at intermediate treatment processes in the near future.
Plastic packaging and bags were identified as
the major components of plastic waste, especially
plastic shopping bags and plastic packaging for
general purpose, even though it was less recoverable and more dischargeable compared with others due to its dirtiness, light weight, and low price.
Moreover, within the current status of Vietnam,
HSW is a commingled collection and is composed


of 84.42% food waste materials. Thereby, plastic packaging and bags are difficult to separate
from the waste stream; it will be too polluted to
be recycled without modern infrastructure. This
status exposes the current burden and prospective challenge for treating plastic packaging and
bags in MSW. Otherwise, this waste contained
the potential for incineration within energy recovery, which seems a possible disposal alternative. However, the improper incinerators can yield
undesirable emissions, especially air pollutants.
Vietnam currently does not have independent
plastic waste treatment facilities that can meet
safety and environmental standards. Waste incineration has existed in few cities of Vietnam;
although it is applied for treating only healthcare

1. This survey, conducted at a Mekong Delta city
for 30 days, specially investigated 130 households. Results show that the average HSW
generation rate was 281.27 g/cap/day; in which
the average plastic waste was daily generated
17.24 g per capita.
2. The detailed composition of HSW was analyzed using ten categories; plastic waste was
especially sorted into 22 subcategories. Compostable HSW accounted for a high percentage of totals (around 80.74%). Results showed
the HSW in CTC also included a large share
of recyclable waste (approximately 11%). Regarding plastic waste, the total plastic accounted for about half of total recyclable
wastes (50%); plastic packaging, bags, and
plastic containers accounted for a high percentage (95.64%), especially plastic packaging
and bags appropriated for the most portions of
plastic waste (73.09%), including 45.72% for
plastic shopping bags.
3. Regarding the correlations between the plastic waste generation rate and relevant factors, the results indicated that there were negative correlations between waste generation
rates of plastic PET bottle for food/beverage,
plastic packaging for unspecified purpose,
plastic shopping bag, number of packaging,

Environ Monit Assess (2011) 175:2335

and total plastic and the household size.

And, there were positive correlations between
waste generation rates of plastic packaging for
non-food/beverage and total plastic and the
income level.
4. The household habits and behaviors of recyclable plastic waste facilities were surveyed.
Most of the respondents answered that they
discharged plastic packaging and bags into
HSW. And they neglected plastic packaging
and bags avoidable waste when they went
shopping, excluding the foods-purchasing behavior. The household consumption behavior
of products and goods which were made by
recycling plastic was very low.
5. Plastic wastes were the materials containing
high energy content; although their recycling
with separation was an environmentally sound
recycling process. Plastic packaging and bags
were identified as the major component of
plastic waste and it was very difficult to separate from the waste stream. This exposed the
current burden and prospective challenge for
finding its proper disposal routes.
Acknowledgements This study was supported by the
education program for Human Resources Development
for Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia funded by the
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Japan (MEXT). The authors thank the staff and
the students at Can Tho University, Vietnam for their
assistance with this study.

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