Biomedical waste illegally recycled in Hanoi

By Ha An-Hanh Huong, Thanh Nien News

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Instead of being collected for disposal, huge quantities of untreated biomedical waste have been illegally sold as scrap by major hospitals in Hanoi.
The scrap is then recycled into plastic products – an act banned by the Ministry of Health.

Janitors and custodial staff have secretly sold tons of syringes, IV lines, ventilators, rubber gloves and drug-bottles, to waste collection magnates over the course of many years.

The magnates then grind up the waste before selling them to plastic recycling establishments across the country.

The biomedical waste produced by 108 Military Central Hospital is supposed to be disposed of rather far from the hospital’s headquarters, so the process of classifying and collecting the waste is known only to the hospital's custodial staff.

This Thanh Nien reporter posed as a waste collector and was introduced by some officers of the hospital to N., a cleaning lady there.

N. and other custodial employees were sorting biomedical waste in a hospital back room when she told the reporter she had traded it with another collector for years.

These days, she's debating selling the waste to him or introducing him to other hygiene officers if he offers her a higher price.

N. usually sells a kilograms of transfusion bottles for VND15,000 (71 US cents), a kilogram of syringes for VND12,000 (57 cents), a kilogram of IV lines or ventilators for VND6,000-8,000 (28-38 cents).

Another cleaning lady named H. said the hospital had signed a contract for biowaste collection and treatment with a company based in Hai Duong Province near Hanoi.

The company collects the waste twice a week, but it only collects transfusion bottles. 

The remaining waste is thus collected by the hospital's custodial staff.

“On busy days, we can collect dozens of kilograms of syringes, IV lines and ventilators,” H. said.

The same thing happens at the Vietnam National Cancer Hospital, the National Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Ha Dong General Hospital and Giao Thong Hospital.

Potentially infectious waste such as syringes and IV lines are sold to plastic recycling establishments in Hanoi’s suburban areas, or Hung Yen and Hai Duong provinces near Hanoi.

From waste to food containers

Trieu Khuc Village in Hanoi’s Thanh Tri District is famous as a destination for biomedical waste. 

Around 600 of the village's 900 households buy biomedical waste from Hanoi and transport it to the village by the truckload.

There they grind it up and dry the resultant powder before recycling it into domestic plastic products such as food-containers, straws, spoons and plastic bags. 

The resulting products are sold at wet markets.

Sacks containing biomedical waste can be seen everywhere in Trieu Khuc Village, in Tan Trieu Commune. 

The path leading to the gate of the commune People’s Committee is also blocked by a line of carts loaded with these sacks. Many households use their narrow front yards to gather and sort the waste.

Whenever it rains, putrid liquid leaks from the plastic bags.

Trieu Dinh Tam, vice chairman of Tan Trieu Commune People’s Committee, said Trieu Khuc villagers are very fond of recycling biomedical waste because it's much cheaper than other kinds of waste.

Vu Van Len, chief of Tan Trieu Commune Medical Center, said the biomedical waste coming into the village had caused outbreaks of dengue fever and diarrhea and polluted the water.

A villager died of cancer caused by polluted water there, he said.

While villagers collect and recycle biomedical waste, they are fully aware of the risks of contagious disease and don't dare use the products they make from the waste.

Hung, who owns a plastic recycling establishment in Tan Trieu Commune’s Khoai Village, said his family has never used plastic products made from biomedical waste.

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