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When will we put an end to Plastic Pollution in Vietnam?

I was devastated when I came back to the beautiful Cat Ba island last year. There were still friendly local people, stunning sunset and heart touching views; but, when I got into the sea for some swimming I had been craving for, I waas surrounded by float plastic bags, snack wraps, coconut shells and other pieces. It is sad, extremely sad as no matter how beautiful our environment is, Vietnamese are taking it for granted and polluting it with irresponsible acts!

Vietnam is shockingly generating about 3.7 million tons of plastic each year, with a projection of a 36% increase between 2018 and 2030. Sadly, only about 10% to 15% of those wastes is collected for recycling, meaning the rest is released to the ocean or buried in landfills.

The most alarming threat to the environment in terms of plastic pollution, personally, is the gigantic amount of plastic bags. Based on a research, nationally, more than 30 billion plastic bags are used annually, on average, 4 bags a day a family. More seriously, about 6% of the ocean plastic waste is contributed by Vietnam. Plastic bags take up 1/3 of the total plastic waste in Vietnam, putting Vietnam in 1 of the top 4 Asian countries with the highest plastic bag waste. Sadly, the amount of plastic bag waste increases non-stop throughout the years, especially in Hanoi and Saigon, with about 80 tons of plastic and plastic bag waste each day. The annual plastic waste per person also climbed up from 3.8kg in 1990 to 41kg in 2021!

The roots of this problem lie in the low cost and convince of cheap plastic bags and the lack of knowledge in both consumers and businesses. On average, it only costs between VND18,000 ($0.78) and VND45,000 ($1.94) for 1 kg of plastic bags (about 1,300 bags), hence, most sellers are giving away plastic bags without thinking to customers, even when customers do not really need them. According to Deputy Minister of Environment and Natural Resource Vo Tuan Nhan, the current highest tax rate for single-use plastic bags is only VND50,000 ($2), which is not enough at all to stop people from using plastic-bags irresponsibly. It is also questionable as most plastic bags now are sold at a price equal to only 70% of a single tax imposed on it, showing no effectiveness of the tax in practice.

If you have gone shopping in Vietnam, you could definitely see how fast sellers put your items into plastic bags without thinking! It even happened to me many times when I clearly said “No plastic bag, please!”, they still got too used to the habit and put my items in their plastic bags. Throughout the lifecycle of a product in Vietnam, it clearly goes through many plastic bags, from the big ones of the supplier to the smaller ones when it is sold to end users. In many cases, multiple items, each packed in 1 plastic bag, will be then put into a bigger plastic bag! What a waste!

Another contributing factor is the growth of the Vietnam online food delivery market. According to Euromonitor International, the value of online food market in Vietnam is about USD 38 millions in 2021, with an expected growth of 11% annually. If you pay attention to shippers on the road, there are multiple plastic bags, with a couple of plastic utensils, plastic containers, sauce sachets inside, most of which will end up being buried or burned after being thrown away as the recycling system in Vietnam cannot yet recycle them all. On average, with just Grab Food, in 2019, there were about 300,000 orders a day, which means hundreds of thousands of plastic containers, bags and cutleries are released to the environment everyday! I myself don’t order food online, not only I care about the environment, but also my own health, as eating food from those plastic containers means thousands of micro-plastic particles can enter my body, causing serious health problems.

This plastic flood will never end only if the Vietnamese government takes immediate action. Ho Chi Minh city has proposed a ban on plastic bag use in supermarkets and shopping malls by the end of 2021, with 50% of non-biodegradable bags in wet markets. More and more public and private offices are also ditching plastic water bottles, and go back to the traditional water jugs. Additionally, with the new Alliance of major drink companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé, along with various recycling campaigns throughout Vietnam, there are clearly some hopes for a greener future in Vietnam. Personally, a more suitable tax rates on virgin plastics and plastic bags along with charge on plastic bag consumption at stores, are compulsory to adjust user and producer behaviours.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to bring your own bags and containers when going shopping!


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