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Urgent solutions needed to fight plastic waste ruining oceans and waterways

Update: April, 20/2018 - 23:00
Garbage along Đầm Nại beach in Ninh Hải District, central province of Ninh Thuận. — VNA/VNS Photo Nguyễn Thành
Viet Nam News

HCM CITY —  Land-based solutions are urgently needed to address the leakage of plastic waste into the ocean and other waterways, experts said on Thursday at a workshop held in HCM City.

The workshop, organised by the US Consulate General in HCM City on the occasion of Earth Day on April 22, was attended by environmental experts, and representatives from NGOs and government agencies.

Speaking at the event, US Consul General Mary Tarnowka said that caring for the environment was not only a government challenge but also a community responsibility.

“The accumulation of marine debris (which is mostly plastic) is a human-made problem that requires a human solution. People can and must do more to prevent plastics from polluting the oceans,” she said.

She called on everyone to play a role by reusing plastic bags, separating food waste from other garbage, and rejecting the use of plastic cups and straws at restaurants and plastic bags at supermarkets.


Việt Nam dumps 1.8 million tonnes of plastic waste into the ocean each year, according to Quách Thị Xuân, director of the Đà Nẵng Consultancy on Sustainable Development Centre and a co-founder of Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance (VZWA).

China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Việt Nam are the main sources of about 60 per cent of plastic waste entering the oceans, according to research.

The waste piles up on beaches and is taken into the ocean by tides, resulting in between 4.8 million and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic floating in the ocean in 2010.

“Everyone uses several plastic products so we need efforts from the entire community to address the problem,” Xuân said.

VZWA’s solutions focus on a “zero waste movement”, which calls for eliminating waste sent to dumps, minimizing waste that needs to be recycled, and turning waste into a useful product such as compost for fertilizer.

She emphasised the five Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and redesign. 

Reports have documented that more than 180 animal species have eaten or absorbed plastic in their bodies, mostly birds, fish, turtles and marine animals, according to Nguyễn Thị Hoài Linh, the country manager for Environmental Development Action in the Third World (ENDA) Việt Nam.

Plastic waste, which also occurs in canals and sewers, causes foul odours and emits methane gas. It can also act as a disease vector.

Linh said that the public must be better educated about the need for waste separation at source and the harm of plastic waste.

She urged the government to work with independent waste collectors as well as the private sector on plastic recycling solutions.

“However, waste sorting at source is the biggest challenge because it needs a change of thought and behaviour among the public. Behavior change always needs a long time,” she said.

Việt Nam still lacks sufficient regulations on plastic waste and policies that call for investment in plastic recycling companies, she said.

Linh said policymakers should revise or issue rules on solid waste collection systems from the national to community level.

HCM City dumps about 250,000 tonnes of plastic waste each year, including 48,000 tonnes at landfills, while other kinds of waste are either recycled or released into the environment, according to a report of the city’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

If 48,000 tonnes of plastic were recycled each year, the city could save about VNĐ15 billion (US$658,640), it said.

Thanks to prodding from NGOs, some governments in Asia are taking action.

For example, Indonesia has committed to reduce plastic waste to a certain level, while Sri Lanka has banned the use of single-use plastic items like shopping bags.

At the workshop, Dr David Saiia, CEO of the US-based Reuse Everything Institution Inc. (REII), described the use of ultra-high technology used in a REII-developed machine that solidifies standard 500ml plastic bottles into composite plastic building bricks.

He said that the technology would give reuse entrepreneurs another product to sell and help them become more efficient in what they collect. — VNS


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