Even this year, there have been protests over factories threatening the local environment via air, water and land pollution as well
By Stivi Cooke
This year, 2018, World Environment Day is 5th June and World Ocean Day is 8th June. The focus of this year is on plastic pollution – in the rivers, oceans and our wasteful and damaging use of plastic bags.
Certainly the Formosa disaster a few years ago and the recent reports of household water, mostly untreated, being dumped in Vietnam’s rivers have raised the general population’s environmental awareness of these issues very significantly.
Even this year, there have been protests over factories threatening the local environment via air, water and land pollution as well.
Already Ho Chi Minh City has an interesting project to reduce the number of plastic bags in circulation and regulate the supply of these around the city. Earlier this year it was reported that Vietnam generates 18,000 tons of plastic a day.
So I thought I would highlight the work of a local group in my part of Vietnam, Hoi An.
Tuong Lai Xanh VN (Hoian River Clean-Up) organizes regular cleaning up sessions to collect the extensive amount of rubbish that ends up in the local rivers. The group also visits local schools to spread the environmental message.
I interviewed Gary Dempsey, an expat who runs the project with the help of some Vietnamese partners, Huyen Nguyen, Ha Linh Thao and Toan Hp.
When did you come to Vietnam?
I first came here in August 2013, fell in love with the place and decided to move here in January 2014. I have volunteered my services to a couple of NGO's and now organize the river clean. Hoi An is my home now and I want to contribute to the community. I have a Vietnamese wife and step-daughter.
What do you do?
We conduct a river clean on a weekly basis along the river and its shoreline; we find the kayaks are the best way of collecting the plastic waste because parts of the shoreline are either too steep or inaccessible by foot or road and many of the smaller islets are only accessible by water transport anyway.
Why did you decide to do it?
Good friends of mine and owners of Hoi An Kayaks, Long Nguyen and Chi Nguyen, who are very passionate about the environment, started the river clean in February 2017. I joined soon after.
Where do you do it?
We conduct our river cleans along the Thu Bon River, concentrating around the ancient town-An Hoi-Cam Nam areas at the moment, and slowly working our way down the river to the East Sea.
We do the river clean-up to help protect the environment but the more important reason is to be seen on the river with our small band of volunteers on a weekly basis. We hope to inspire and encourage the local community to dispose of their rubbish in a manner that helps keep the river and environment healthy.
Isn’t it better for the Vietnamese to do that?
No, it’s not. We would love to have everyone do this, Vietnamese people, expats and tourists. Ninety percent of our volunteers are Vietnamese and nearly all university students. We would like more people to know about us and join with us.
Is it expensive to do?
It costs us on average VND1.5 million per week; we have to provide sun hats, gloves, sunscreen, water, rubbish bags, wages and gasoline for the tail boat and driver used to collect the rubbish as well as a small lunch and ongoing maintenance. At the moment we (Hoi An Kayak Tours) with some small donations from establishments cover the costs, but we need more help via money or goods to help us run this project for a long time.
How often do you do it?
Weather permitting we conduct this every Saturday and have done it for the last 15 months
How do you dispose of the trash collected?
The rubbish we collect is transferred from the kayaks or the shoreline in chaff bags to a large tail boat, we then take it to a central drop-off point where the garbage collectors have easy access to the garbage trucks. It is quite an easy procedure, all we do is ring them with the location and they arrive within 10 minutes. It really works well with the support from the local government.
Why don’t the local authorities do it?
The local authorities do, they concentrate around the tourist areas, streets and mainland and that’s understandable, the river system around Hoi An is massive.
What are the future plans of your project?
For now, we will continue with our weekly river clean-up and we have a Keep it Clean, Keep it Green presentation that we have shown at schools and hope to continue to do so. We believe saving the environment should start at school level as it plays a massive role in building a society that is knowledgeable towards the environment and its associated problems.
What happens if you can’t run the project yourself?
The project will continue because we always have enough smart-minded people who care to carry on the work. We are very lucky our members are just as passionate as we are. However, we also need money or support for running the project longer especially with education activities. We are now looking for partners/donators to work with us.