Toxic Waste Management towards Sustainable Development: Perspectives from Business party

2 November, 2023

When the problem of environmental pollution is alarming on a global scale, effective toxic waste management is very important for sustainable development. However, the relationship between hazardous waste management and corporate performance and its impact on various aspects of sustainable development remains unclear. From that situation, the author from Ho Chi Minh City University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City (UEH) conducted research to explore the perceptions of hazardous waste management and its impact on Vietnamese industry practices.

Solid waste pollution being completely serious

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) announced Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) harmonically integrated and balanced with three aspects of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental”, addressing global challenges and potential plans for achieving shared prosperity. Accordingly, in terms of sustainable development, businesses need to integrate environmental and social aspects into their core business activities. Among these 17 SDGs and 169 corresponding targets, waste management is one of the most fundamental features.

In fact, the rapidly expanding industrialization process generates large amounts of toxic substances listed as toxic gases, liquid waste and electronic waste (e-waste), threatening the balance of the ecosystem and human health worldwide if they are not handled properly. Although developed countries have established standardized processes with high treatment costs for different waste components listed as e-waste, only 20% of them (in 2016) are treated appropriately. In terms of the worldwide scale, the remaining 80% are likely to be discarded, re-traded or recycled ineffectively (Ilankoon et al., 2018). These figures imply that the developing countries, where hazardous waste management is inadequate and underinvested, are facing a proliferation of informal and unregulated recycling facilities that is being beyond control (Jayaraman et al., 2019; Ilankoon et al., 2018). Furthermore, the increase in industrial solid waste in these countries comes from the illegal waste imports from the developed countries.

In Vietnam, approximately 80% of the total amount of industrial waste is collected domestically, then, dismantled, sorted, torn apart and, finally, buried or burned manually without meeting hygiene standards, causing highly serious risk environmental and health problems (secondary pollution) (Intelligence, 2020; An, 2014). In addition, similar to the case of other developing countries, the issue regarding toxic waste management in Vietnam is a complex issue due to high population growth, rapid urbanization and industrialization. Therefore, to address these specific challenges, a theoretical and practical system that combines institutional frameworks, organizational capacities and appropriate innovation investments is needed to identify effective determinants towards hazardous waste management in Vietnam.

Toxic waste management playing an important role in the sustainable development of businesses

The role of effective hazardous waste management in improving sustainable development is obvious. On the one hand, the management of industrial toxic waste charges huge costs. This can cause businesses to face a large financial burden in the short term. On the other hand, it is less expensive than other unexpected costs arising from improper release and management of hazardous waste. Therefore, a suitable waste treatment process not only prevents harmful effects on the environment and human health but also harmonizes the relationship between businesses and stakeholders related to the community and the environment. This is very important for the long-term survival and sustainable development of the business.

Which barriers prevent businesses from effectively implementing toxic waste management?

Several studies have pointed out common barriers that prevent businesses from participating in hazardous waste management listed as: the lack of appropriate policies and management agencies, the limitations regarding awareness, socio-economic and technical foundations. However, the reality indicates that businesses carry out waste management simply to comply with regulations and are mostly not proactive. Therefore, in the absence of strict policies and financial constraints, they are not implemented or handled improperly.

Furthermore, the dominance of the informal sector makes controlling the toxic waste management process more complicated. Negative information concerning informal recycling activities affects business perceptions of ethical practices for hazardous waste management.

Theoretically, what are the research gaps from the previous studies?

The previous studies have attempted to propose potential solutions to improve hazardous waste treatment processes by exploring the impact of hazardous waste on the environment and human health. Uchida et al. (2018) and Ikhlayel (2018) proposed a solution to ban the storage and burning of e-waste in public areas. Instead, treatment should be done at specialized plants to reduce pollution. Cheng et al. (2019) aims to evaluate the hazards and risks of this type of solid waste. From this background, the authors ranked hazardous chemicals and wastes, determining priorities in waste treatment.

On the other hand, these studies approach the problem separately. A comprehensive and systematic approach to analyzing and synthesizing aspects of toxic waste management is essential for sustainable development. From a sustainable development perspective, waste management practices must be consistent with the concept of “Triple bottom lines”. This implies that hazardous waste management strategies involve not only financial aspects but also social and environmental aspects. Thereby, it is necessary to expand common assessment methods to address the systemic interrelationships and multidimensional values ​​between the environment, the society, the technology, and the economy.

The important issue is that these aspects involve qualitative attributes, which are often not described by quantitative information. Because linguistic ambiguity in human perception and judgment leads to differences in meaning and interpretation. Evaluation of these values ​​cannot be performed with any single parameter or quantitative method. Therefore, there is a great need for new and effective approaches to linguistic information. However, only a few studies addressing both hazardous waste management and corporate sustainability present attribute estimates with language options.

Therefore, this research topic uses fuzzy set theory in the fuzzy Delphi method (FDM) and the decision evaluation and testing method (DEMATEL) to resolve uncertainties from qualitative language and to determine the cause-and-effect relationship between the attributes of hazardous waste management and sustainable development. These methods are effective in dealing with qualitative information by converting ambiguous linguistic options into unambiguous values ​​and verifying complex relationships under conditions of information uncertainty or uncertainty. evidence is lacking (Tseng et al., 2020; Lin et al., 2018). In summary, the specific objectives of the study are as follows: (i) Proposing a set of valid and reliable attributes and criteria as a multidimensional measure for meaningful hazardous waste management activities for the sustainable development of businesses; (ii) Effectively handling linguistic judgments using the Fuzzy Delphi Method to access qualitative information; (iii) Visually structuring the cause-and-effect relationships between these attributes through the FDEMATEL causal model and identify priority promotion criteria to enhance hazardous waste management in practice and promote sustainability in business. From there, the article proposes appropriate strategies for businesses to apply in managing toxic waste sustainably and bringing sustainable profits to businesses.

The research results demonstrate that the lack of an effective and multi-dimensional management mechanism for toxic industrial waste (policies and regulations, monitoring and management systems as well as infrastructure for classification, collection and recycling) has brought diverse challenges for the management of hazardous industrial waste in practice. Therefore, it is essential to develop structured and effective policy approaches to mitigate these problems and achieve sustainability.

In general, this approach requires effective coordination from two sides: the Government and the businesses.

In terms of the government, a comprehensive vision, strict law enforcement and supervisory capacity of managers are factors that need to be emphasized. In terms of the businessmen and businesswomen, corporate finance plays an equally important role as institutional vision in implementing sustainable hazardous waste management activities of businesses. The adequacy and the availability of corporate financial resources are necessary to implement and maintain hazardous waste management programs. Although hazardous waste management means incurring costs for businesses, effective toxic waste management contributes to the sustainable development of businesses. To sum up, the government, in addition to measures to force businesses to enforce the law, needs to build appropriate incentive mechanisms for businesses to voluntarily implement effective toxic waste management.

Author: Trần Trung Kiên – Faculty of Public Finance, UEH College of Economics, Laws and Governance (UEH-CELG).

This is an article in the series of articles spreading research and applied knowledge from UEH with the “Research Contribution For All – Nghiên Cứu Vì Cộng Đồng” message, UEH cordially invites readers to watch the next Newsletter ECONOMIC No #90.

News, photos: Author, UEH Department of Marketing and Communication