Plastic Alliance consolidates plans to move away from single-use plastic bags

December 02, 2021 | 10:45
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On November 26, the Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources and Environment (ISPONRE), along with the Department of Industry and Trade of Hanoi and Vietnam Business for Environment, organised a consultation meeting on a communication plan of the Alliance of Retailers to Reduce Single-use Plastic Bags, further cementing the plans to tackle Vietnam’s plastic waste with effective and feasible solutions.

The meeting was organised as a hybrid conference at the halls of ISPONRE and online. Its main objectives were to agree on a communication plan for the alliance, to propose concrete activities that are to be implemented in 2021 and 2022, as well as a work plan for the coordination among members of the alliance to mobilise financial and technical resources from the members and partners.

Plastic Alliance consolidates plans to move away from single-use plastic bags
The participants of the meeting met both online and in person

Among the participants at the meeting were 14 out of the 15 current members of the Alliance of Retailers, such as Big C, Mega Market, Co.op Mart, Lotte Mart, AEON, BRG Retail, and Decathlon.

During the opening speech, ISPONRE’s vice director Nguyen Trung Thang emphasised the importance of the alliance’s work saying, “Plastics are a major global problem. Each year, 400 million tonnes are produced, with 79 per cent of plastic waste ending up in landfills, while only 9 per cent are recycled. With the current consumption of plastic and waste management, it is forecast that around 12 million tonnes will be discharged into the environment by 2050 if the issue is not tackled immediately.”

Single-use plastic bags, often given out at supermarkets for free, are a major contributor to environmental pollution. “Until now, most supermarkets in Hanoi are providing free-of-charge plastic bags to customers, consuming around 38 million per year and 1,400 plastic bags per day,” said Thang.

Aware of this issue, the alliance of Vietnamese supermarkets and retailers was launched on March 31 by ISPONRE and the Department of Industry and Trade of Hanoi as one of four initiatives under the Rethinking Plastics – Circular Economy Solutions to Marine Litter project, running in Vietnam until 2022, co-funded by the European Union and the German government.

Back in March, Kim Thi Thuy Ngoc, head of the Division of Science and International Cooperation at ISPONRE, outlined tentative targets for the 1-year Plastic Alliance pilot programme. The goals could for instance include replacing single-use plastic bags with eco-friendly bags at participating supermarkets in Hanoi and communication and awareness-raising activities towards customers.

“This and ancillary initiatives could target a 10 per cent reduction in the total amount of single-use plastic bags compared to 2020,” Ngoc suggested.

At the recent meeting, the primary goal was to discuss a communication plan towards consumers and the public, to convince these to move over to eco-friendly solutions, such as reusable and bio-degradable bags, as well as other multi-use containers.

To consolidate this, Ngoc from ISPONRE introduced the two main forms of communication, directly at the retailers' branches and on social media. Among the examples were a short video clip uploaded on the Plastic Alliance’s YouTube channel, aiming at educating viewers about the use of reusable bags, as well as several standees for in-house placement at the supermarkets.

Further, Ngoc introduced the Plastic Alliance’s Facebook fanpage and related interactive challenges through which consumers can show off their support, such as by posting photos or video clips of them on the fanpage.

Three more presentations were given by representatives of the WWF Vietnam, Vietnam Business for Environment, and Decathlon, who shared insights about their related communication experiences.

Among these, Doan Binh Duong, production team manager at Decathlon Vietnam, shared the sports equipment retailer’s experience with reusable bags. “Since we opened in April 2019, we applied the policy that our customers need to either use their own bags or purchase one of our reusable ones,” said Duong.

“In the beginning, we faced many challenges with unsatisfied customers who were not familiar with reusable or recycled bags. However, we remained persistent with our policy and so far, have been successful."

In addition to banning single-use plastic bags, Decathlon also refrains from wasting resources on items like clothes hangers and shoeboxes, and instead use mostly carton and recyclable materials throughout all its outlets. However, Duong admitted that replacing plastic bags entirely is a challenging task. “For small items sold online, we still sometimes use plastic bags to optimise operations and costs, though we are working on switching to eco-friendly and bio-degradable alternatives. Very soon, we will ban plastic bags also for online sales,” he explained.

Despite Decathlon’s positive experience in banning single-use plastic bags, Duong reminded the other participants about the challenges in convincing customers. “Even if customers know that using reusable and recyclable bags is better for the environment, they will not feel responsible. That is why we need regulations,” Duong argued.

A representative of Big C reported that, although the supermarket chain has been trying to reduce single-use plastic bags, its independent efforts have been challenging. “I highly appreciate the establishment of the Plastic Alliance. In the past, we all took different actions, and the situation has not improved much. Reducing the use of single-use plastic bags and convincing customers must be a persistent, combined effort,” the representative stated.

As a next step, the members of the Plastic Alliance will sign an MoU to formalise their common commitments to reduce the consumption of plastic bags at supermarkets and retail chains in Hanoi.

By Etienne Mahler

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