Eco-activism in Vietnam
In recent years environmental awareness has risen globally, especially among the younger generations of today. A global movement is in play, for our growing population to stop the use of single use plastics, be more ecologically aware and aspire towards a zero waste lifestyle. Vietnam is no exception to this ecologically conscious development as we strive to play our part in the global mission to save our planet.
The Current State of Vietnam
Vietnam is one of the fastest developing countries in Southeast Asia. With rapid growth comes urbanization, increased population and growing tourism. While modernization is great for the economy, it has heightened Vietnam’s waste production.
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Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam and the country’s biggest contributor to the single use plastic problem. In fact, Ho Chi Minh City is ranked 9th in the world pollution index (2019). The city generates around 6,000 to 8,000 tons of solid waste per day and only less than 15% of this waste is recycled. Currently, Saigon’s main solid waste management is landfilling and this is where almost 85% of the entire city’s waste ends up.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Most of the plastic trash currently found in our oceans comes from Asia. Unfortunately, Vietnam is one of the top six biggest contributors to ocean garbage. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one of five ocean garbage patches currently in the world and is the largest ocean patch among the five. This floating island of plastic trash is where most of Vietnam’s improperly disposed of plastics end up.
What is Vietnam doing about this problem?
We are beginning to realise the urgent need to stop the use of single use plastics and disposables. Many local businesses are now making moves towards practicing zero-waste and advocating towards others the benefits of an eco-friendly lifestyle, striving to build and support a less wasteful community.
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Hotels, restaurants and cafes in Vietnam are finding ways to be more ecologically sustainable. It is commonplace these days to find that your local coffee shop has switched over to providing bamboo or metal straws. Even local markets in Vietnam are doing their part by going back to old school methods, using banana leaves to wrap food to go. A number of schools in Vietnam are also taking action by pledging to become plastic free by 2020, with a strong focus on educating their students on eco-responsibility.
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The Organik House in Saigon’s District 1 is an eco-conscious company that encourages the community to minimize our negative footprint. They offer both businesses and end users eco-friendly alternatives to plastic that are 100% biodegradable and chemical free. The Organik House currently supplies many local businesses with 100% biodegradable delivery containers, plates, bowls and cups as well as eco-friendly single use and reusable straws.
The Vietnamese government are also dedicated to reducing waste in Vietnam and are working on finding innovative ways to recycle solid wastes. A good example is the plan to build the first ever recycled plastic roads in Hai Phong, as well as the plan to ban all plastic scrap imports into the country by 2025.
What Can We Do As Individuals?
Most of us are probably familiar with the eco-conscious mantra of ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’, but there is another crucial ‘R’ word, which we all need to enlighten ourselves and our children on. That word is REFUSE.
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REFUSE single use plastics and go for reusables instead. REFUSE plastic spoons and forks when ordering takeout and use your own reusable cutlery. Go one step further and bring your own reusable containers to pack leftovers when dining out. REFUSE plastic bags and packaging - on your next grocery run, practice bringing your own reusable containers and bags when buying meat, vegetables and other produce. We need to understand that as our demand for disposables decrease, there will be less need to manufacture these single use products.
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Refilling your household and food items is another great zero-waste tip. Simply bring your own containers and refill your supplies from a zero waste shop. Tap Hoa La Xanh in District 1, Lai Day Refill Station in Thao Dien and Green Around the Corner in District 2, are some notable refilling stations right here in Saigon. You can stock up on rice, pasta, nuts, tea, coffee, salt, pepper, vinegar, oils, and much more. Besides dried foods and condiments, you can also refill your laundry detergent, soap, bamboo straws, toothpaste and so on.
Waste Management Around the World
As a developing country, Vietnam has huge potential for growth and improvement when it comes to how we deal with our waste. We can learn a thing or two from other countries when it comes to finding the ‘pollution solution’. Here are some of the best waste management practices from around the world.
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Deposit-Refund Scheme - A very simple and replicable way to reduce waste and encourage recycling. This scheme exists in Europe, the UK and Australia, where you can be compensated in cash for empty cans and bottles.
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Eco-vending machines - Colombia has an interesting way of encouraging locals to actively take part in reducing landfill. Ecobot is a vending machine that gives you movie tickets, vouchers and monetary compensation every time you deposit plastic bottles or bottle caps. It's very similar to the Deposit-Refund Scheme but cleverly utilises technology and accessibility to encourage participation. Ecobot vending machines are placed in an extensive number of universities, shopping malls and office buildings, successfully targeting many of Colombia’s population.
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Recycling - Recycling is still one of the most common ways to reduce solid waste and Japan is well regarded as the world leader in recycling. Kamikatsu, a village in regional Japan, enforces a zero waste policy and has its residents segregating trash into 41 types, in 13 categories. In 2016, they managed to recycle 81% of all their refuse.
Trash for Healthcare - Dr. Gamala Albinsaid, a healthcare entrepreneur in Indonesia, founded Garbage Clinical Insurance, which gives people access to medical services and medications by trading in their recyclables. The clinic takes in solid waste and sells them to recyclers. The money earned is then used to buy medical supplies and the like.
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