Opportunities in Applying Digital Solutions to Plastic Waste Management in Viet Nam

A plastic bottle manufacturing factory in Viet Nam. Photo credit: ADB.

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A study examines the potential of three applications to scale up and recommends policy actions to support digital adoption.


The widespread use of plastics has resulted in a significant problem of plastic waste in Asia. In Viet Nam, rapid economic growth in the past 2 decades, driven by strong domestic consumption, has led to a rise in in waste generation, making the country a significant contributor to marine plastic pollution. It is also among the top five importers of plastic waste, which local industries use as feedstock, in recent years.

An Asian Development Bank-supported study explores technological solutions for addressing the plastic pollution problem in Asia, focusing on Viet Nam. Digital applications for plastic waste management are being developed and implemented in various countries in the region. In Viet Nam, applications are in the development and piloting stage with small and medium-sized enterprises eager to drive innovation in waste management. Utilizing the digital economy to improve and promote sustainable practices in plastic waste collection and management can help the country cope with its growing waste problem.

The study selected three digital applications with the highest potential for development and scale-up based on their ability to involve all key stakeholders, including the informal waste sector, their functionality, accessibility, user experience, and impact on the circular economy in the country. The results demonstrate a promising prospect for further development and scale-up of digital technology applications to address the plastic waste problem in Viet Nam and the region.


The study involved a literature review and stakeholder engagement with more than 250 participants from various sectors, including academia, industries, government, software developers, and waste management groups. It identified 10 software applications that could be used to improve waste management in Viet Nam. These are ELCOM, HWaste, UberRac, VECA, Grac, VN Solution, MGreen, TCSOFT EMS, Waste, and WeCollect.

Highest potential for development and scale-up

The three apps with the strongest potential for development and scale-up in the country are the following:

  • Grac supports plastic waste classification and collection and works with the government. It connects licensed waste collectors and companies, has the potential to engage the informal sector, and holds waste collection data from 150,000 households.
  • mGreen is available in multiple cities and covers waste classification, collection, treatment, and transportation through a multi-level management system.
  • VECA aims to improve plastic waste management through sorting, collecting, transporting, and treating recyclable plastic with the help of licensed recyclers and collectors. It also works with the informal sector. The developers plan to collaborate with business and civil society organizations and the government to enhance the app and make it accessible and free for all users.

Incentives and rewards are offered to encourage proper waste disposal. For instance, both mGreen and VECA offer the option to convert recyclable waste or scrap into credit. App users can also earn points, which may be redeemed as gifts or used in promotions.

Table 1: Comparison of Three Apps

Feature Grac mGreen VECA
Platform Android, iOS Android, iOS Android, iOS
User fee 300.000 VND/month Free Free
Number of users 15.000 38.000 32.000
Language Vietnamese Vietnamese & English Vietnamese & English
Key users Household; Company (and subcontracted companies); Government Household; Waste company; Informal sector Household; Informal sector
Waste collection type Door-to-door Public waste bins Door-to-door
Location available (city level) Ho Chi Minh Ho Chi Minh and Ha Noi Ho Chi Minh
Waste Types Recyclable and non-recyclable waste
Hazardous waste
Recyclable waste Plastic waste
Incentives and rewards No Yes Yes
Real-time Tracking Yes No Yes
Compatible with operating systems (iOS) Requires iOS 13.1 or later Requires iOS 9.0 or later Requires iOS 11.0 or later
Waste collection schedule Yes No Yes
Available to further development Available and already have investor Available Available
User register on platform No Yes Yes

Figure 1: Summary of Survey Results

Despite the promising outlook and deployment of the three apps, there are gaps and constraints in their application and scale-up. Feedback from 103 stakeholders who use used the apps and information gained by the study team revealed key constraints on the following:

  • Restrictions on the participation of the informal sector due to their lack of legal status,
  • Pilot stage and limited geographical application,
  • Low segregation levels,
  • Poor quality of recyclable fractions,[1]
  • Low community participation,
  • Lack of adequate financial resources for further development, community engagement, and the expansion of stakeholder involvement in waste management effort.
  • Slow deployment of projects when working with government entities,[2] and
  • Insufficient knowledge of waste classification and separation

Barriers to adoption

Stakeholders identified the following barriers to adoption of digital technology for waste management by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Economical: While digital technology solutions can lead to increased efficiency and reduced operational expenses, such as labor costs, the investment costs for these solutions, which require hardware (e.g., sensors, data collection devices) and software, tend to be higher than traditional waste management operations. Implementation of these solutions may require specialized technical skills and training, which can add to the overall cost. Unlike large companies, SMEs lack access to financing.

Social: The benefits of high-skilled jobs and the potential impacts on low-skilled workers can lead to polarization in the labor market. Rapid technological and economic changes may also result in skills disruption.

Conflicting interests: Waste management involves multiple stakeholders with different and, at times, conflicting interests operating in a system without clear responsibilities or sufficient regulations and guidance.

Institutional challenges: Regulatory bodies, ministries, and ministerial-level agencies are generally understaffed and need more consistency and synchronization to avoid overlapping in waste management efforts.

Weak enforcement: Before implementation of the Environmental Protection Law 2020 in January 2022, there was no proper introduction of the "polluter pays" principle in the waste management context. Law enforcement could be more consistent and effective.

Lack of guidelines: Despite recent efforts to establish a mechanism for managing environmental and public safety concerns, there is still a lack of clear rules or guidelines.

Lack of incentives: Waste management is a multimillion-dollar sector with the potential to benefit the economy significantly. Both short- and long-term solutions are needed to enhance local demand for recycled plastics and scale up the domestic recycling industry by fostering a supportive environment for private sector investment.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which integrates advanced digital technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence, robotics) into industrial processes, exacerbated Viet Nam's waste management crisis. There is an increasing amount of electronic waste and packaging waste generated by e-commerce. The rapid urbanization and industrialization driven by 4IR have also led to a larger and more concentrated population generating more waste, putting a strain on the country's waste management infrastructure.

Several key good practice approaches have been identified through this research to improve efficiency and fulfil the needs and gaps of a sound digitalized waste management system.

  • First, the development of a market for municipal solid waste management services should be well-planned and coordinated.
  • Second, legal frameworks must be improved and provide specific plastic waste classification, collection, transport, and treatment regulations.
  • Third, extended producer responsibility schemes should be set up to discourage wasteful production processes, and
  • Fourth, awareness and behaviour change campaigns must be developed to encourage individuals to adopt sustainable waste management practices.

Other measures include gradually applying modern technologies and equipment, avoiding the development of too many waste management service providers, and collecting cleaning fees according to the volume of plastic waste. The bidding process for municipal waste management services should be made public and transparent to promote fairness and accountability in the selection process.

Lastly, developing useful digital applications and encouraging citizen participation are needed. While some applications are being developed to increase public participation in waste management, they are currently limited in scope. Viet Nam must use this opportunity to develop key products, equipment, and technologies to improve waste management and to contribute to the global waste management industry.

[1] Recyclable fraction refers to the same type of recyclable waste (e.g., plastic waste fraction, paper waste fraction, metal waste fraction). Waste fractions regularly present levels of contamination (for example a load of plastic waste may contain residues of food, paper, and other non-plastic waste material), making it of “poor” quality. This means associated costs for further handling and segregation prior to recycling.

[2] This can be due to bureaucratic processes, regulations, and the need for multiple approvals and permits.


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Ly Dang
Senior Consultant, Wiser Environment

Ly Dang has more than 13 years of in-depth experience in assessing environmental, health, and social responsibility impact. She has taught at universities and participated in various projects by applying environmental informatics to environmental management and building infrastructure. She has been involved in environmental data management and the development of applications for wastewater, waste, mining activities, traffic, and education in Viet Nam. She continues to develop her knowledge to support the waste management and circularity needs in Viet Nam.

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