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Solving Vietnam's Trash Problem One Moving Truck at a Time

Vietnam has a trash problem, and it’s hard to miss. Storm drains are full of discarded plastic from takeaway containers to drink bottles, and the country is among five Asian nations thought to be responsible for 60% of all plastic waste in the world’s oceans.

Hoa Vu and Trang Luu Van are doing their part to create change through an unexpected avenue. They both operate moving companies that only use 100% recycled boxes and packaging material, a virtually unheard of initiative in this industry.

“I haven’t seen it anywhere," Hoa, the managing director of Evolve Mobility, tells Saigoneer. “My wish is that when we work with other partners around the world that they will recognize and follow and do the same as us. Normally the best ideas come from bigger countries, but I hope that it starts from Vietnam.”

Evolve has only been in operation for three months, but Hoa has over 20 years of experience in the moving industry. She noticed that all of the offices she worked in were full of trash, and wanted to make a change.

“Since I was a little kid I wanted to protect the environment, so I see the people throw everything away, and it destroys the environment,” she explains.

She searched for moving companies which focus on recycling and came across Karta, Trang’s business. Karta has been in business for five years and provides 100% recycled boxes to corporations like Samsung, the French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi and Triumph underwear. They also produce recycled paper bags for companies which supply the likes of Adidas and Nike.

“All paper is recycled internally,” Trang says. “We have trucks and people who go around to cities and other provinces to get debris and material to bring back to our factories in southern Vietnam.”

Hoa admits that such a business model is difficult. “When we use recycled packing materials the cost might double, so the economics are tough,” she explains. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t do it.”

In a country where most people leave their trash outside to be sorted by informal ve chai workers, instilling a broad recycling culture will be a challenge, but both women are adamant it can be done, and that it must be done for all materials, not just paper.

“We don’t want to stop there because with paper products we only solve one part of the issue,” Trang says in an email. “The lifestyle of using non-degradable products and wasting resources is the root cause of the environmental issues.”

This may be a long process, but Trang understands that. “I know that our products can replace plastic and metals; for example, we can replace plastic bags,” she says. “If we reduce, and my friend reduces, step by step it will get big.”

Huong Vu, general manager at Evolve, adds that recycling is what sets them apart: “Recycling is our unique selling point. Whatever paper is in our office or warehouse, we use recycled material. We really want to show our clients that we are contributing something to society and the environment.”

Hoa, meanwhile, plans to connect with schools in order to explain to students the importance of recycling and the harmful effects of wasting material. Anyone who has children who dump empty Sting bottles into storm drains will understand the need to start young when it comes to such awareness.

Trang also has much grander ambitions, starting with an initiative called Karta Garden. She explains: “We wish to give you a present in the form of a space, an environment, where you are allowed to explore and understand yourself, understand others, and live in the caring arms of nature.”

If successful, Karta will use this model to create more products for consumers to create green, sustainable homes.

For Hoa, it’s all about people accepting the need for such initiatives. “We need step by step for people to recognize this,” she says. “If you know us, you will tell someone about us, and if we do it correctly we’re better able to do things for people.”

[Top photo, from left to right: Huong Vu, Trang Luu Van and Hoa Vu.]

Related Articles:

- After China Bans Plastic Imports, Southeast Asia to Become World's Largest Recycling Plant

- Masters of Recycling: Saigon Technicians Turn Old Computer Screens Into TV Sets

- Saigon Spaces: Reuse, Recycle and Reinvent

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