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Experts urge Vietnam to turn garbage into power for double benefit

Vietnam is losing the opportunity to produce energy from garbage due to its lack of technologies and funds, experts said at a conference on solid waste management in Ho Chi Minh City Friday.

The country also faces an environmental challenge with around 17 million tons of garbage generated every year, including 6.5 million tons in urban areas, Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper quoted them as saying at the conference organized by the city Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

Hanoi generates 5,000 tons of solid waste every day and this is expected to increase by 15 percent a year, while HCMC puts out more than 7,500 tons.

Some 98 percent of the garbage is buried, which causes wastage of land and pollutes the land as well as water sources.

Nguyen Thanh Lam of the Vietnam Environment Administration said of 23,000 tons of household garbage generated every day only around 15 percent is recycled into compost.

Masanori Tsakahara of Japanese manufacturing and engineering firm Hitachi Sozen said at the conference it would cost nearly $40 to turn a ton of garbage into electricity, and this discourages local investors.

Southeast Asia's first energy-producing recycling plant is set to be built in Hanoi this year with Japanese technology and funds.

Hitachi Zosen last August signed a contract with the Hanoi Urban Environment Company to build a power-generating recycling plant at the capital's largest garbage dump, Nam Son.

Construction is expected to cost $29.2 million -- with Japan providing $22.5 million -- and be finished in 2014. The plant will recycle up to 75 tons of garbage every day, producing 1,930 kilowatts.

Experts said Vietnam should look at turning waste into energy as a long-term mission, and undertake projects like Nam Son sooner or later.

This would solve both its energy shortage and pollution problems, they said.

Its burial of wastes has polluted groundwater with heavy metals and other toxins, they said, pointing out that while land for burial would run out, the generation of garbage would never stop.

Thus the country would be able to resort to it only for several more years, they said.

The country's energy demand for industrialization and traffic development has increased rapidly, with commercial energy demand expected to rise by more than 7 percent between 2010 and 2025, and electricity demand by 15 percent.

Vietnam could learn from the incineration technologies being used in many countries in the world including nearby Malaysia, and turn to public-private partnerships for funding such projects, delegates said.

The government should help with land and pricing incentives, they added.

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