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Vietnam should make plastic material too valuable to throw out: expert

Thursday, May 24, 2018, 18:04 GMT+7
Vietnam should make plastic material too valuable to throw out: expert
Plastic is seen among a pile of waste at the Bui Vien - Tran Hung Dao intersection in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Editor’s note: David Saiia, co-founder and CEO of Reuse Everything Institute, Inc. (REII), an NGO dedicated to developing and promoting better resource use including the reuse of plastic waste, discussed Vietnam’s plastic problem in an email interview with Tuoi Tre News.

Saiia, who holds a Ph.D. in strategic management, is currently a visiting professor in the faculty of international education of Duy Tan University in the central city of Da Nang, where he has lived for three years.

David Saiia, co-founder and CEO of Reuse Everything Institute, Inc (REII) speaks at an Earth Day event in Ho Chi Minh City on April 19, 2018. Photo: Dong Nguyen/Tuoi Tre News
David Saiia, co-founder and CEO of Reuse Everything Institute, Inc. (REII), speaks at an Earth Day event in Ho Chi Minh City on April 19, 2018. Photo: Dong Nguyen/Tuoi Tre News

From the point of view of an environmentalist, could you share with us why plastic is bad for the environment?

Plastic is a persistent waste product that takes a very long time to biodegrade. Plastic presents an immediate threat to marine life when it is mistaken for food and eaten, causing death by choking and digestive obstruction.

Plastic continues to break down into smaller pieces called "microplastic" and is also eaten by marine animals.

In this form it can enter the food chain and make its way into the human diet - the long-term implication of this bio-concentration of plastic up the food chain is not yet well understood.

One could take a guess and say that eating plastic is probably not a good idea.

During the time that you’ve lived here, have you developed any thoughts on Vietnamese habits in relation to plastic or Vietnamese littering tendency?

Plastic use and plastic disposal have been increasing in Vietnam alongside the growing economy. People consume more products and throw out more waste. Until specific programs are created to change behaviors, this trend will continue and grow more serious.

Did it motivate you to start REII? What is REII doing?

This is a global problem. We started REII in the USA. Reuse Everything Institute, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to the idea that we must do a better job of waste management if we are to have a sustainable future.

REII has designed a process to reuse waste plastic bottles by cutting them into ribbons and using those ribbons to make other products. We came to Vietnam to build our prototype machines. We are trying to complete this task with technology and engineering partners in Da Nang. When the machines are built, we intend to distribute the plastic reuse machines to "waste pickers" and allow them to create their own reuse businesses in order to improve the income generated by their daily work. In this way, we aim to address the economic incentive issues at the heart of the plastic trash crisis.

David Saiia, co-founder and CEO of Reuse Everything Institute, Inc (REII) speaks at an Earth Day event in Ho Chi Minh City on April 19, 2018. Photo: Dong Nguyen/Tuoi Tre News
David Saiia, co-founder and CEO of Reuse Everything Institute, Inc. (REII), speaks at an Earth Day event in Ho Chi Minh City on April 19, 2018. Photo: Dong Nguyen/Tuoi Tre News

So, in your opinion, what is the solution to Vietnam’s plastic problem?

The solution to the plastic issue is to make the plastic material too valuable to throw out. If waste pickers can make a good living by collecting trash and efficiently converting it into value-added products, then the proper incentives will be in place to keep plastic out of landfills and oceans.

Furthermore, we have a solution to reclaim plastic once it is used for a final time – using microbes to dissolve them into a fertilizer. We have a full life-cycle solution for plastic waste that we are trying to realize alongside our collaborators here in Vietnam.

Some say Vietnam needs stronger effort from the government to manage plastic use, like with the imposition of the regulation on wearing helmets on motorbikes. In the past, Vietnamese did not have to wear helmets while driving, but the government made it a regulation several years ago and now people obey quite well. Do you agree? 

Regulation and education are very important elements in a comprehensive strategy to address plastic waste and solid waste in general. However, regulation alone will not work. A program like what I have described will create appropriate economic incentives to motivate plastic reuse and effective waste management.

What is the current state of plastic use and waste in your country? Is there any lesson that Vietnam can learn from?

The USA has similar problems, but we have had regulation and encouragement to recycle. Some communities even incinerate their trash. The issue with recycling and incineration is that they both are not sustainable practices - both economically and environmentally. Plastic is a valuable resource and therefore must be used wisely. This has not yet been achieved in any country. Our program would offer a new attempt at a "best" practice - trying to reuse existing plastic while alleviating poverty among waste pickers, reducing trash, and reducing the demand for virgin plastic. It is ambitious, but necessary.

Thank you!

Dong Nguyen/ Tuoi Tre News

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