The blight of Tetra Paks covering Vietnam's beaches and towns
The Guardian - More than 8bn Tetra Paks are sold every year in Vietnam – and only a few percent are recycled. It’s having a devastating effect on the environment.
It takes 45 minutes to pick up all the milk cartons that have washed up on Long Hai beach overnight. “I feel like all I do is collect them,” says Nguyen Thi Ngoc Tham, gesturing towards the quiet length of sand that fronts her beach house in the south of Vietnam. “I fill about three or four bags every morning, but then there will be a big wave, and when I look back over my shoulder the sand is covered again.”
Milk cartons aren’t the only rubbish that washes up on her shores; bottles of Coca-Cola float in the shallows next to odd shoes, bin bags and sodden bits of cardboard. Once or twice a year, there’s a dead body. “The milk cartons are the most difficult,” she explains. “I can get rid of everything else. Local waste pickers will buy the plastic and the paper from me, and I call the police for the corpses. Nobody will take the milk cartons from me.”
Milk consumption in Vietnam has almost doubled in the past 10 years, as the dairy industry shifts its focus from “saturated” western markets in favour of Asian expansion and is now valued at $4.1bn (£3.1bn). But one of the biggest beneficiaries of this growth seems to be the dairy industry’s principal packaging supplier, Tetra Pak. Last year, 8.1bn of Tetra Pak’s individual cartons were sold across Vietnam. Yet a comprehensive country-wide recycling programme is yet to be implemented. Now, as cartons pile up on beaches and in landfills up and down the country, that’s having a devastating effect on the environment.