General manager Steve Raymond pulls the curtain on Phan Thiet's horrific garbage problem - and the only way to fix it.
Like most people who grew up in developed countries around the world, from the time I was able to walk, I was taught to respect the environment and to put my garbage in a garbage can. As a result, the community in which I grew up was clean and free of visible garbage or trash.
We were all very proud of our public parks and wilderness areas and we always made an extra effort to keep them clean and free of garbage. Whenever we went for a hike or had a picnic in a park or wilderness area, we always took out anything we brought in that we didn’t consume and then we disposed of our trash either at home or in garbage disposal areas.
Contrast this with the environmental education and upbringing of the average Vietnamese citizen. Vietnamese tend to drop trash and garbage on the ground wherever they are or as soon as they un-wrap food or finish using something. When they ride in a car or a bus, they throw their plastic waste and garbage out of the window.
A Vietnamese resident explained that it’s a communal mentality. He said that there is no punishment or repercussion for littering, so people don’t even try to find a wastebasket. Meanwhile, children see their parents throwing garbage on the floor and so they do the same thing.
I have worked in the tourism industry in Vietnam for the past fifteen years and in Phan Thiet for the past nine years. In that time, I have seen the amount of garbage in the sea and along the roadsides in our area grow to unbearable levels.
Tourists who come from countries like mine, with virtually no garbage on the beaches or along the roadsides, are disgusted with what they see in Vietnam. They don’t remember the magnificent color contrasts between the white dunes and the water and plant life at Bau Trang Lake; they remember the garbage along the shore. They return home with memories of trash at the Fairy Stream, Styrofoam and plastic bags on the beaches and piles of rubbish along the roads. The label Mui Ne has become synonymous with filthy or non-existent beaches, clutter and garbage.
Nguyen Binh, a deputy director of a 4-star resort in the area, remarked that “Mui Ne is now a mess.” People don’t travel from other countries around the world to walk along a beach cluttered with refuse or visit a magnificent natural wonder spoiled by ugly garbage and trash. Tourists have many choices of destinations. Many of these destinations have uncluttered beaches and a clean natural environment. Why should they choose to come here instead of going to a destination that has clean beaches and pristine nature preserves?
The government officials in Phan Thiet know that tourism is down this year, but they do very little to offer tourists an environment that is welcoming. When the Russian ruble weakened and fewer Russians could afford to come to Phan Thiet, tourism from other areas did not make up for the loss of Russian tourists. A major reason is that the reputation for trash that Phan Thiet has developed over the years does not engender good will. Tourists from other countries are not encouraged to come here when they read about filthy beaches and unregulated dumping.
If the government officials in Phan Thiet really want to help the economy and develop tourism, they need to clean up the area. They must pass anti-dumping laws and aggressively fine people who throw trash in the ocean, along the roadside, or on public lands. They need to set aside an area in the hills where local residents can dump their garbage and they need to expand their garbage collection to include people hired to pick up garbage along the beaches and roadsides. They must educate local fishermen about environmental protection and ensure that every fishing boat has trash disposal units on board.
Photo by: Tuoi Tre News
The trash problem is not just in the Phan Thiet area, but is widespreadthroughout Vietnam. This clip is from a recent article in Tuio Tre Newspaper:
“Carlo Campisan, an Italian backpacker who spent four weeks traveling around Vietnam with his girlfriend, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) Newspaper that what he saw during the trip was floating rubbish in UNESCO-recognized Ha Long Bay in the north.”
Phan Xuan Anh, chairman of Du Ngoan Viet Co., remarked that “Many tour guides dream of the day when they see no more floating rubbish on their river tours and no garbage getting stuck in their boat’s propellers.”
Until the government takes action, businesses in Phan Thiet– and the rest of Vietnam – will continue to suffer and tourism will not develop here as well as it develops elsewhere.