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Saigon Launches Major Initiative to Reduce Plastic Use in Local Markets

Saigon authorities have issued plans to multiple municipal departments in hopes of seeing a reduction in the use of plastic bags and products.

An initiative has been launched this week aiming to raise public awareness surrounding plastic waste, alongside a phasing out of nylon bags in marketplaces across the city, according to VnExpress.

The Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee has asked the Department of Education and Training to cooperate with the local Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DONRE) to educate students on the detrimental impact of plastic pollution, the news source shares. 

To that end, the respective authorities have drawn up a campaign to encourage local residents to use biodegradable bags instead of conventional plastic counterparts, as confirmed in a press release by DONRE on May 18.

"Tax authorities need to conduct thorough investigations, inspections and penalize businesses that violate environmental tax regulations regarding non-biodegradable plastic bags," officials wrote in the press release, indicating that an increased effort to hold companies, especially those that produce plastic products, accountable will form a crucial part of the campaign.

Key focal points of Saigon's campaign will involve a phasing out of plastic bags at supermarkets – which, by custom, are given out for free – in favor of eco-friendly alternatives.

Also on May 18, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment launched a campaign (link is in Vietnamese) to celebrate World Environment Day, which is set to start for June 4. This year's theme will hone in on the issue of plastic pollution under the hashtag #BeatPlasticPollution and is spearheaded by this year's host, India.

As part of the event, Vietnam has chosen a central slogan to promote public interest in environmental issues: "Nói không với sản phẩm nhựa dùng một lần," or "Say no to single-use plastics." Examples of items that fall within this category include disposable razors, cutlery and drinking straws, to name a few.

Chart showing various contributing factors to ocean plastic pollution. Image via Ocean Conservancy by McKinsey Analytics.

These developments follow a series of reports from the international community on the necessity of confronting ocean plastics; for example, Ocean Conservancy's Stemming the Tide in 2015 and a 2016 brief by Public Radio International (PRI). The US-based advocacy group found that Asia is a major source of plastic in the ocean due to the region's rapid economic growth, alongside changes in consumer behavior. 

"Over half of land-based plastic-waste leakage originates in just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam," the PRI report states, acknowledging the role the region play in plastic pollution globally. "These countries have all succeeded at achieving significant growth in recent years, and they are at a stage of economic growth in which consumer demand for safe and disposable products is growing much more rapidly than local waste-management infrastructure."

"Plastic that has low residual value is more likely to leak into the ocean," it continues, referring to endemic issues in waste management. "Waste pickers – individuals who collect materials from waste and then sell those materials to recyclers – tend to focus their efforts on high-value plastic."

Figures in the report illustrate the issue vividly: while a staggering three-quarters of plastic refuse remains uncollected, the rest of it can still end up as marine debris. This ultimately points to a complicated picture of waste management in Asia that suggests more robust intervention is needed.

"At this rate, we would expect nearly one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish in our oceans by 2025 – an unthinkable number with drastic economic and environmental consequences," Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy's marine debris program, told PRI.

World Environment Day 2018 campaign video. Video via Youtube user UN Environment.

[Top photo via Thanh Nien]

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