Hanoi, 13 October (VNA) - Late one evening at a restaurant in Hanoi, several young people were collecting empty plastic drinking bottles from a bucket next to a stand saying “For a world free of plastic trash, give us your bottles”.
The group are architecture students in Hanoi who go from place to place, collecting plastic bottles and repurposing them rather than letting them end up at landfills or float around the ocean.
Using their engineering and design skills, the students recently started “The Second Life of Plastic Bottles” project to turn disposable objects into colourful toys and useful teaching tools.
“We want to create playgrounds for children, particularly in rural areas, so they can make their own toys, while raising public awareness of reducing plastic waste,” Nguyen Huyen Chau, technical adviser of the project, told the Vietnam News Agency.
According to Chau, more than 1,000 empty plastic bottles have been turned into toy airplanes, cars, plant pots, and even pulley or water flow systems to date. At least 5,000 bottles are expected to be collected and recycled by the end of this year.
Chau hopes that individuals and restaurants in Hanoi will join their efforts so the project will be able to run sustainably.
Environmental protection groups bloom
Elsewhere, Pham Thi Phuong Thuy and her friends were collecting plastic trash and making eco-bricks in the corner of a book fair in the capital city, while her teammates erect a small wooden book-house and call for old book donations.
These young people come from different localities and call themselves Green and Book Ambassadors (GBAs), who have been travelling around the country, exchanging books for plastic waste, hoping to contribute to global efforts in reducing plastic pollution.
Established in 2012 with only five members, the GBAs network has grown by dozens of members from around the country and even abroad, sharing their dedication for environmental protection and hoping to inspire others to do the same.
Over the past six years, we have travelled extensively across Vietnam, particularly to disadvantaged and coastal areas to collect plastic bags, give books to needy students, and teach them how to make and use eco-bricks,” GBA co-founder Pham Thi Phuong Thuy, 26, told the VNA reporter.
“More and more young people are wanting to join in and offer financial support or ideas for the group to expand its coverage and activities,” Thuy said, noting that most of them are either students, foreign tourists, or come from green energy companies.
Ecobricks are a great global initiative, representing a different approach to reduce plastic waste, which is an increasingly serious issue worldwide, particularly in Vietnam, with countless hoardes of plastic bags given out by shopping outlets every day.
Making ecobricks is very simple and anyone can do it.
By stuffing small pieces of plastic into a plastic bottle, it turns the bottle into a highly insulating, robust, and affordable building material.
Those ecobricks can be used vertically as infill in timber-frame building systems, or horizontally, where they are mortared together with clay or cement.
Wherever we go, we talk about how making ecobricks helps the environment and how they can build simple household works, such as garden or tree fences with the colourful ecobricks that they make,” Thuy said.
In Vietnam, environmental protection groups founded by Vietnamese young people, such as the organisations just mentioned, have bloomed in recent years, particularly in big cities. They are independent from each other, each running active online web pages, calling on the public to reduce plastic waste.
Plastics: once a newfound miracle, now a public enemy
Plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges currently facing the world. Just 100 years after plastic materials were first invented, humankind has soon become addicted to disposable plastic products for its convenience. Now, this convenience has turned into global crisis.
According to a WEF study, plastic consumption is equivalent to pouring one rubbish truck of plastic waste into the ocean every minute. This is expected to increase to two truckloads per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050. It takes over 100 years for plastic bags to decompose. The figure is over 400 years for plastic bottles.
In other words, we finish an average drink in a few minutes, but the bottle will stay in the environment for generations. Plastic shopping bags are used for less than an hour on average, but they have formed millions of tonnes of plastic waste piling up in the ocean, killing sea animals, damaging ecosystems, and entering the food chain.
The large majority of plastic waste comes from Asian countries. A 2017 report by the UN’s Ocean Conversancy stated that five Asian countries – namely China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam – are responsible for dumping more plastic into the ocean than the rest of the world combined.
If we carry on as usual, by 2050 this could mean there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.
Efforts being made to address plastic build up
According to the recent UN report called “Single-use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability”, more than 50 nations are taking concerted actions to reverse the trend of plastic addition and reduce plastic pollution, mainly concentrating around the use of single-use plastics.
Countries/regions have plastic bag bans/taxes in place (Move the cursor to see details, source: UN, WB)
Vietnam was listed as one of the world’s top plastic waste generators, and was also found to be one of the nations most affected by it, with its over 3,000km of coast. The country has made concrete efforts to join the international community and address the issue, as well as saving its own from deteriorating coastal ecosystems, rising sea levels, and ocean waste.
Public awareness of plastic pollution is trending current topic in Vietnam.
Plastic waste treatment has been included in the agenda of most of the international and multilateral forums and mechanisms that Vietnam is a member to or has hosted, including the World Economic Forum on ASEAN 2018 in Hanoi in September, and the sixth Assembly of the Global Environment Facility in Da Nang in June.
Recently, a national movement to combat plastic waste was launched to call on all Vietnamese people, enterprises, agencies, and socio-political organisations to act and commit to reducing plastic waste by changing their the habits of using single-use plastic products, especially plastic bags.
The call is part of Vietnam’s actions to join the Clean Up the World Campaign, which was initiated by Australia in 1993, and spread around the world under the UN Environment Programme.
“Beating plastic waste requires more than awareness, it demands a movement. We need an overall rethinking of the way we produce, use, and manage plastic,” Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Tran Hong Ha, told the Vietnam News Agency reporter on the sidelines of the launching ceremony on October 12.
“We urgently need consumers, businesses, and governments to step up urgent, decisive action to halt this crisis of disposable plastic consumption. If we do that, we’ll also help fight climate change, create a new space for innovation, and save some species in the process,” Ha said.
Meanwhile, Tran Tu Hieu, Director of the Institute of Enviromental Science and Public Health, highlighted the significance of addressing plastic pollution in Vietnam and across the world, saying that it will preserve ecosystems, mitigate climate change, and protect biodiversity and human health.
“As a consequence of waste affecting our environment, we are starting to find plastic in the foods we eat, the water we drink. When it enters the food chain, microplastic particles are turning up in our stomachs, blood, and lungs,” Hieu said.
Local residents onboard
Addressing plastic waste issue is not only a challenge for the Government, but also the responsibility of the wider public.
Tran Thi Huyen, a local resident in Quyet Thang commune, Thanh Ha district, Hai Duong province said she was told about the consequences of plastic trash, adding that refusing to use plastic bags for daily shopping is just one of the simple things she can do to make a difference.
“I have no problem with bringing my own basket to the market to carry foods I buy, I have been doing this for a long time. In fact, using reusable baskets has been a common reality for locals here for a while,” Huyen said.
Dong Thi Nhuan, Chairwoman of Women’s Union, Quyet Thang commune said “Over the last two years, we have encouraged union members to use reusable carriers instead of plastic bags to help protect the environment.”
Quyet Thang commune has become a role model in its response to the plastic crisis in traditional markets in rural areas in Vietnam.
Meanwhile, residents of Con Son – a sandbank in the middle of the Hau River – in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho’s Thuy Binh district, have not needed added encouragement to start reducing their consumption of disposable plastic.
As an attractive tourism destination, Con Son sandbank welcomes a large number of visitors, which unfortunately often results in high levels of plastic waste dumped by tourists.
Local people said they were upset at seeing plastic bottles and bags pile up on the sandbanks after they were washed ashore by the rising tides and after visitors left, feeling the need to act urgently before these things caused irreversible damage to their beautiful surroundings.
Early this year, a project to reduce the use of plastic bags was launched there, receiving great support from the community, local authorities, and travel agencies.
Most residents in Con Son have committed to saying no to plastic bags in their daily activities.
Local travel agencies have been engaging in the effort by advising visitors not to use plastic bags on the sandbank.
Tourism service providers turned to using natural materials, such as bamboo baskets, banana leaves, or paper bags for wrapping fruits, food, and souvenirs for tourists.
Solving plastic waste becomes a daily discussion among locals.
Teachers talk about plastic pollution at schools while students go along the Con Son sandbank to collect plastic waste every three days, according to Le Thi Be Bay, the project manager.
“We see a very high sense of responsibility and active response among locals to reduce plastic bags and keep their living environment clean and green. Local authorities don’t need to impose any kinds of ban or regulation for the use of plastic bags,” Le Thi Bay told the Vietnam News Agency.
“Residents are resolved and willing to deal with plasti old the Vietnam News Agency c waste, because, after all, they are protecting their own livelihood and living environment,” said Bay.
Businesses join hands
As for the Organik House in Ho Chi Minh City, the restaurant uses bagasse (sugar cane residue), areca spathe, and coconut fibre to replace plastic and styrofoam boxes; glass, metal, and bamboo straws to replace plastic straws; glasses and spoons these eco-materials to replace plastic glasses and spoons.
The Ho Chi Minh City-based Organik House is among pioneering businesses in Vietnam, making full commitments to going green by using food containers made from natural materials and saying no to plastic utensils.
“We are using eco-materials instead of plastic. By doing this, we hope that we can make small contribution to some difference for environmental protection” said Tran Thi Quyen, Organik House co-founder, adding the restaurant has received positive feedback from customers.
While Organik House’s green efforts make up just a small response to the global crisis, Quyen believes every endeavour counts. Their approach is proof that plastic alternatives can be sustainable for both businesses and the environment.
Environmentally-friendly plastic bags are also more commonly used in shopping mall centres.
According to reports from provinces and cities’ people’s committee, traditional plastic bags that are hard to dissolve have been replaced with reusable and environmentally-friendly plastic bags in 90 percent of supermarket and mall chains including Big C, Maximark, Vinmart, Fivimart and Co.op Mart in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Da Nang, Can Tho, Hai Phong, Nam Dinh, Quang Ninh, Thanh Hoa, Vinh, Khanh Hoa, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Dong Nai and Binh Duong.
The target to have the number of plastic bags used in supermarkets and malls fall by 40 percent compared to 2010 was realised in 2015 in some big cities.The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources issued Circular 02/2012 stipulating criteria, procedures to have plastic bags recognised as being environmentally-friendly.
The Circular was based on the feedback from enterprises and was issued to encourage and facilitate enterprises in producing environmentally-friendly plastic bags.
Three years after implementation, there are 32 kinds of plastic bags from 27 enterprises being recognised as environmentally-friendly.
Nguyen Thi Hoai Linh, Director of Environment and Development in Action Vietnam - a NGO organisation, highlighted the efforts being made nationwide by individuals and businesses to reduce plastic waste.
However, a greater involvement of the community and local authorities is needed to present a realistic front to the problem, according to Linh.
The Government should also issue policies, including the imposition of taxes, to reduce plastic utensil production, while giving incentives to encourage more green business in the nation./.