Plastic bags may be an integral part of any consumer economy, but for locals on Cham Islands off central Vietnam, doing away with them has become a habit.
The Cham Islands, or Cu Lao Cham in Vietnamese, constitute a group of eight small islands which form a part of the Cu Lao Cham Marine Park, a World Biosphere Reserve recognized by UNESCO since 2009.
For the past eight years, the islanders have led a ‘green’ lifestyle without plastic bags, thanks to a campaign initiated in 2009 by the administration of Cham Islands, administered by Quang Nam Province, which called on locals to “say no to [the] bags.”
“The campaign received overwhelming support from the majority of residents, who not only gave up their habit of using plastic bags but also encouraged tourists visiting the islands to do the same,” said Tran Tan Dung, Party chief of Tan Hiep Commune, where the Cham Islands are located.
At the bustling market of Tan Hiep on one of the islands, posters and banners calling for the ‘boycott’ of plastic bags are hung at visible locations as a reminder to both vendors and customers.
“Vendors on this island like me have been using paper bags or banana leaves to pack goods for our customers for the past seven years,” Le Thi Nga said as she packed a bunch of vegetables inside a paper bag. “You can see it everywhere. We stopped using plastic bags when we were told that it would take them a very long time to decompose and they could be harmful to the environment.”
Red and green shopping baskets are used in place of plastic bags on Cham Islands off Quang Nam Province. Photo: Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment
Do Thi Ha, a shopper at Tan Hiep Market, said all households on the island are given two reusable shopping baskets every year to replace plastic bags.
“The red basket is for meat and the green one for vegetables,” Ha explained. “We bring them along when we go shopping at the market to avoid using plastic bags.”
An inspection team put together in 2010 and tasked with penalizing those who use plastic bags only booked 25 violations in the first four years of its establishment.
For the last three years, the number of yearly violations on the islands has dropped to under ten, with some villages even setting a record for no reported use of plastic bags since 2010.
Businesses found to be using plastic bags on Cham Islands will be fined VND1-2 million (US$45-90), while smaller traders are subject to a fine of VND300,000-500,000 ($13-22) for their violations.
Visitors are asked to leave all plastic bags behind, and those who carry them onto the islands are provided with a mesh bag while having their plastic bags taken away.