Curbing single-use plastic conundrum in Vietnam

June 07, 2021 | 11:00
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Vietnam and several countries in Southeast Asia are taking a raft of measures to minimise plastic waste pollution, particularly cushioning the use of single-use plastics and leveraging local resources as well as external support.
curbing single use plastic conundrum in vietnam
Curbing single-use plastic conundrum in Vietnam, Mui Ne-Phan Thiet

The pollution of barely-compostable plastic waste has become a global crisis, leaving huge detrimental impacts on the environment, human health, and the ecosystem.

In Southeast Asia, rapid economic growth has led to an immense increase in the use of plastic, especially for packaging of consumer goods. Unfortunately, waste management systems in the region have not kept pace. In Thailand, for example, only around half the waste is collected, while in Malaysia and the Philippines, just 15 per cent is safely disposed of.

The bite of plastic pollution is also acutely felt across Vietnam, which is deemed as one of the top plastic consumers worldwide, ranking fourth among the top 20 nations in plastic waste volume, discharging about 280,000-730,000 tonnes of waste to the environment each year.

With the volume of plastic packaging in Southeast Asia and in Vietnam continuing to increase, there is an urgent need to put effective systems for the collecting, sorting, recycling, and disposing of waste in place to prevent it from entering nature. Using more recycled and recyclable materials and reducing plastic consumption in the first place, so that less waste is produced, are further key steps to reduce litter on land and in the ocean.

Yet, the awareness of most people is still limited as they are not always aware of the harmful effects of plastic waste disposal to the environment and the ecosystem.

The Rethinking Plastics – Circular Economy Solutions to Marine Litter Project aims to facilitate the deployment of such solutions through up- and downstream measures. It is co-founded by the European Union and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Expertise France. Running in Vietnam from May 2019 to 2022, it aims to support the transition towards sustainable consumption and production of plastics to contribute to a significant reduction of marine litter. One of the activities it focuses on in particular is tackling the issue of single-use plastics and packaging for consumer goods, which are a driver for the increase in plastic pollution.

In Vietnam, movements like plastic-bag-free days, a “say no to single-use plastics” scheme, and public events to combat plastic waste in recent years are bringing positive changes in the community’s mindset about sustainable consumption.

Retailers and supermarkets are stepping up efforts to curtail the use of plastic bags through encouraging the use of bags multiple times or presenting programmes on offering bonus points for bag-free purchases, among others. Plastic bags, however, are offered for free to consumers at most supermarkets nationwide.

In this context, bringing retailers and supermarkets together in a united front provides the opportunity to cushion the use of plastic bags and single-use plastics, lending a helping hand to realise the government’s commitment on curbing plastic waste.

A smart move towards this end is the initiative on establishing The Plastic Alliance, whose prime target is to bring together supermarkets and retailers in Hanoi to take action against plastic waste and single-use bags for environmental protection. The Plastic Alliance is one of four initiatives under the Rethinking Plastics project.

According to Kim Thi Thuy Ngoc, head of the Division of Science and International Cooperation at the Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources and Environment under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment – which is in charge of implementing the pilot project – the one-year Plastic Alliance pilot scheme seeks to replace single-use plastic bags with eco-friendly ones at participating supermarkets, in addition to raising consumer awareness.

The pilot scheme sets a target of 10 per cent reduction in the total amount of single-use plastic bags compared to 2020.

At the same time, all supermarkets participating in the alliance are proposed to roll out communication activities to raise consumer awareness and run promotion and discount programmes that could include providing discounts and bonus points for plastic-free purchases.

Considering the national strategy on solid waste management to 2025, with vision towards 2050, it is a must for all supermarkets to use eco-friendly bags by 2025 while simultaneously reducing 50 per cent of marine litter.

Plastic items account for 8-12 per cent of household solid waste, with each household consuming an average 1kg of plastic bags a month. About 80 tonnes of plastic waste are discharged into the environment in the two major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City each day.

According to Tran Thi Phuong Lan, acting director of Hanoi Department of Industry and Trade, for sustainable production and consumption, simultaneously with spreading the message “say no to single-use plastics” in the community, the department is consulting with Hanoi’s leadership to further deploy measures supporting consumers and firms in production and business to curtail the use of single-use plastics.

The department also works on programmes to push the use of eco-friendly products among consumers and household traders, accelerate the development of associated infrastructure and services on collecting and recycling single-use plastic bags that are barely compostable, and study the possibility of state-of-the-art technology transfer related to recycling of hardly compostable plastic waste.

By Dinh Thuy

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