by Hoài Nam
|Souvenirs made from reclaimed wood are displayed at the Coco Casa collection in Hội An. The site promotes 'green' tourism by using recycled materials. Photo courtesy of Ngọc Thuận|
Vast amounts of driftwood and rubbish pile up at Cửa Đại beach in the south-central province of Quảng Nam in flood season every October, costing the much-favoured coastal destination time and money in cleaning up. But one man is using the debris to his advantage to help create a greener future and raise environmental awareness.
Nguyễn Ngọc Thuận, a local bar and restaurant manager, had found his own way to clear up the beach by making sculptures and souvenirs from the unused wood rather than leaving it for the dump.
Thuận, 42, who works near the crowded An Bàng beach in Hội An, started recycling wood debris from carpentry workshops into sculptures and interior decorations, following a zero-plastics and green tourism drive in the town.
Using a pick-up, Thuận collected thousands of pieces of driftwood that were washed up along the Thu Bồn River to Cửa Đại beach.
He has created at least 400 sculptures and decorations from the unused wood over the past two years and is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.
The Coco Casa bar on the Cổ Cò riverfront, a short walk from An Bàng beach, now has a unique collection of reclaimed driftwood, sculptures and souvenirs, and serves as a recycling arts space in Hội An.
Aside from the wood, Thuận also collects debris cloth from tailors in the Old Quarter of Hội An to make lanterns, mattress covers and paintings for the Coco Casa collection.
|Nguyễn Ngọc Thuận introduces a wood miniature model of Hội An's iconic Japanese bridge at Coco Casa. VNS Photo Công Thành|
“I and carpenters from Cẩm Kim carpentry craft village in Hội An created more than 100 sculptures for display. It will be a place to relax at the weekend and to highlight ideas about no-plastics and recycling as part of the town’s ‘green tourism’ branding,” Thuận said.
“A wide range of pots, pizza trays, spoons and furniture at the Coco Casa collection is made from wood instead of plastic. The riverside bar also recycles kitchen waste and is environment-friendly.”
Thuận said the tailor’s shops in Hội An dispose of one tonne of cloth each day, and numerous recycled pieces are also found at carpentry shops in Cẩm Kim.
He said almost all the furniture at Coco Casa bar was made from recycled wood to set up the first innovation and recycling start-up space in Hội An.
His first mosaic, measuring 80cm high and 150cm wide, was created from driftwood in 2020.
“Every piece of wood has different shapes, be it animals, men or women faces and bodies. We send a message to the community calling for the restoration of the forest and an end to illegal logging,” Thuận said.
“Most of the wood flowing from the Thu Bồn River resulted from over-exploitation of the forest. I emphasise how recycling driftwood collected from the floods shows the importance of forest protection.”
The Coco Casa collection highlights unique sculptures and the skillfulness of local carpenters.
|A carpenter creates a sculpture from a wood log in Hội An. Photo courtesy of Coco Casa|
Thuận explained how a simple piece of wood could be turned into a flying dragon or a beautiful woman, and the woodwork would inspire other crafters.
Many wood sculptures are designed in the style of the Cơ Tu people, a significant local ethnic minority living in mountainous areas of Quảng Nam, using figures such as buffaloes, elephants, crocodiles, dragons and endangered species, Thuận added.
Over past years, many members of the Quảng Nam provincial tourism association have applied their own solutions to reduce and recycle waste and plastic in restaurants and hotel kitchens since the 'Zero plastic waste tourism' campaign was launched in 2020.
The association said the owners of nearly 100 local hotels, homestays, villas and restaurants, and travel agencies took action to reduce plastic waste by promoting kitchen waste recycling and saving water.
Trần Việt Thùy from Pacific World Travel said many tour customers now requested plastic- and waste-free accommodation.
|A sculpture designed from debris wood. About 400 sculptures from driftwood and recycled wood are displayed at Coco Casa Collection near An Bang beach. Photo courtesy of Ngọc Thuận|
She said tourists preferred having meals among the rural scenery in paddy fields or joining environmentally-friendly activities rather than luxury service at five-star hotels.
Thùy said zero-plastic, and environmentally-friendly activities had become a new trend in luxury tourism, and Hội An had been at the forefront.
Hội An had been using straws, containers and souvenirs from bamboo and reeds, while local residents had been encouraged to bring reusable bags to the market instead of plastic ones.
The tourism hub also promoted the 'Say No to Single-Use Plastics' campaign to reduce waste.
Thuận said his recycling workshop would offer a tour for tourists to have experiences in making things from reclaimed driftwood and debris themselves.
The shop will show visitors how to recycle material from household items, offices, and the environment into attractive souvenirs.
Thuận, also chairman of Quảng Nam provincial innovation support centre, said he would gather skilful sculptors from Kim Bồng carpentry village to create work from unused wood found at various worshipping sites.
|Various souvenirs and portable decorations are made from recycled wood at Coco Casa. VNS Photo Công Thành|
He believes environmentally-friendly behaviour will be a significant trend in the coming decades as the environment and lifestyles are increasingly impacted by pollution and the over-use of chemicals in agriculture and food.
“More people and tourists have been seeking natural and organic products to create a greener, more healthy lifestyle. We try to set up a location for visitors to experience ‘green’ tourism – where recycling of waste, furniture, non-plastic lifestyles and chemical-free food is promoted.” VNS