A considerable number of used foam food bowls, which are meant to be disposable, have been found being collected, washed, and reused in Ho Chi Minh City, sparking serious concerns about food safety.
The demand for disposable foam bowls in the southern metropolis is very high as takeaway breakfast and meals have become the norm among the citizens.
Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters have recently carried out an investigation into the situation following the reports of many readers.
The activity can be noticed on a daily basis along the sidewalk in front of a company on National Highway 1 in Binh Tan District.
Coming from trash cans
A lot of vendors sell their food at this location every morning, as thousands of workers prefer enjoying their favorite breakfasts the quickest and most convenient way.
All of the sellers of beef, pork, and fish noodles here serve their foods in foam bowls, and workers could either sit along the promenade to enjoy them or bring the portions elsewhere.
At around 6:30 am on June 7, a morning just like any other, some workers were seen throwing the foam containers into nearby recycle bins or just leaving them along the sidewalk after finishing their early meals.
After they all headed to work and the breakfast vendors left, several middle-aged women walked toward the venue and started collecting the used foam bowls.
They threw away the leftovers and put the empty bowls into several black plastic bags.
The women then walked to a nearby bus station where they sold the items to a woman named T. for some cash.
The same activity was repeated the following morning, as observed by the Tuoi Tre journalists.
B.N., who lives in the neighborhood, recalled seeing the women collecting the food containers on multiple occasions.
“I saw them taking the used foam bowls to the bus station, but I had no idea what they were going to do with the objects,” N. elaborated.
The Tuoi Tre correspondents decided to follow T. as she took the food containers back to her home in Binh Chanh District.
Upon arriving home, the woman put on her rubber gloves and started washing the used foam bowls she had bought that morning.
T. dipped the objects into water, washed them with soap, and dried them under the sun, before washing them once again to eliminate all of the stains.
Hard to tell the difference
T., who claimed to have been doing this “job” for ten years, said she would buy used bowls at VND300 (US$0.012) apiece.
After thoroughly washing the containers, T. sells them at VND500 ($0.02) each.
“I collect and sell about 1,000 pieces a day, so my daily income is approximately VND200,000 [$8.5],” the woman elaborated.
Her regular buyers are grocery store owners at Le Minh Xuan Industrial Park in Binh Chanh District and traders at Binh Dien Wholesale Market in District 8.
T. said she usually sells the ‘recycled’ food containers at lower prices compared to brand new ones.
“People can hardly tell the difference between my ‘recycled’ products and the brand-new bowls,” she stated.
According to Nguyen Huu Duc, a former lecturer at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Ho Chi Minh City, foam food containers must be used only once, as recycling them can be harmful to human health.
Foam bowls as well as boxes should not be washed with soap as the material can absorb the detergent, Duc added.
Most of the women who do this job come from poor families and appear to be unaware of the harm they are causing.
Many readers have expressed similar opinions and believed they should be guided toward a decent career to support their family.