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The anti-plastic movement in Vietnam: I’m doing my part!

Monday, May 27, 2019, 15:14 GMT+7
The anti-plastic movement in Vietnam: I’m doing my part!
Garbage wrapped in plastic bags piles up on a street in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh /Tuoi Tre

I’m doing my part, are you doing yours? Environmental citizenship, guaranteed!

Driven by guilt and remorse (well…sort of…) I’ve decided to tackle my personal plastic problem and hold my head high in the world.

Not that I’m really that sorry for my contribution to Vietnam’s waste problem. I’m simply an unthinking expat consumer of goodies which come with more packaging than the material inside. I haven’t given that much thought to how much rubbish piles up in my trash bin over an average week so I checked and found out I use five-liter garbage bags and manage to fill two of these per week. Not bad for a single man with one dog.

And there’s plastic everywhere in the house.

Stashed within my kitchen shelves there’s a mad, colorful collection of plastic bags that have only been used once, from my local mini-mart to my front door, about forty meters away. My odd sorts of Pringles containers and takeaway foam boxes take up a lot of the garbage space although my disposable razor blades, blobs of old, too small pieces of soap and ash tray muck make an interesting smell contrast. I blame part of this on my housekeeper constantly buying more large bottles of cleaning and my dog for all those dog food cans and the kibble packets. Bad dog!

All this leaves me with the moral and ethical issue of how I can complain about the neighbors’ dumping, burning, cutting up and hiding their rubbish on the vacant land around my area when I might be accused of doing nothing to minimize the stuff I throw out. How can I justify wagging my big finger at the antics of the locals if I don’t do my part to reduce the mess? How can I look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Now there’s a sensitive, considerate, environmentally aware fellow!”?

So I’m changing my ways…well…starting to. But it’s just not that simple. And even if I stop using so much plastic, I receive more plastic anyway!

Recently, I’ve taken a reusable plastic kitchenware box with me to the café when I go out to dinner so I can bring home some snacks for the dog but the box ends tied up in a plastic bag anyway! When I go to the mini-mart, I carry a reusable plastic shopping basket, yet even if I say ‘no bags’ they still habitually wrap stuff in plastic bags, resulting in ten minutes longer at the counter trying to explain I don’t need the extra bags. Even if it’s just veggies, I’ve got a box for that!

All my beer cans and five-liter water bottles now go to the neighbor who grabs them with delight. My old clothes go to the housekeeper for her brood and I get a big hug (painful) from her. Surprising how much space I’ve regained since starting to throw out all my stuff. I should do this more often! Also it’s amazing how many insect war camps I discover during this process.

At the local cafés I proudly proclaim, ‘No straw for me, thanks!’ The waiters don’t get it and attempt to serve me a straw. Now we’re both responsible for having to throw an unused straw. Let’s start again, shall we? One problem I have spotted is the difficulty of asking a local waiter for a recyclable straw, if required. And how do you say ‘Do you have metal straws?’ in Vietnamese? Simply getting them to pronounce ‘recyclable’ often has me rolling on the floor with laughter.

In another odd case, I ordered a pizza to take away. Nothing wrong there, I thought. It’s just a cardboard box. Simple! Easy! Yet it came with one of the largest plastic bags the restaurant uses.  As I tried to explain how wasteful this was, the kid waiters said it’s a good way to balance the pizza on the handlebars. Hmm…doesn’t that make it more dangerous on the motorbike, juggling both pizza and steering? Well, not if you’re Vietnamese. But I wasn’t wearing my conical hat at the time…

I’m also attempting to turn my food waste into some sort of garden compost; however it’s attracting every beastie in the neighbor while my dog ignores the invasion of bugs and rats. Thanks buddie, I thought our deal was food in exchange for protecting the house. I guess the dog’s point of view is he doesn’t read contracts.

But I will continue to do my part, if for no better than it makes me feel good and gives me the mirage that I’m helping to change the world and reduce climate change. So don’t be surprised when I challenge you in my superior, environmental warrior attitude, ‘Are you doing your part?’

Stivi Cooke / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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