A Vietnamese brand recently launched a new collection of messenger bags made of discarded tarpaulin that had been used to line shrimp ponds in the Mekong Delta.
Dong Dong is a Ho Chi Minh City-based brand known for transforming old tarpaulin into sustainable backpacks, tote bags, wallets, and other accessories.
The brand has worked with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to collect the used tarps and expand their life cycles, with GIZ helping connect Dong Dong with local authorities and shrimp farmers in the Mekong Delta.
|Bags made of shrimp pond lining tarp are displayed at a launch event hosted by Dong Dong in Ho Chi Minh City, June 15, 2023. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
“Shrimp farm aquaculture has become a vital economic backbone for the Mekong Delta,” Franziska Sophie Kohler, team leader at GIZ in Vietnam, said in a press release on the bag launch.
“The sector has experienced continuous growth and an intensification of farming techniques which, in parallel, led to increased use of plastic products along all stages of the shrimp farming value chain.”
The problem is that there are no collection system and no storage space at shrimp farms so, in the end, the pond liners are mismanaged, Kohler said.
“In the absence of adequate waste collection and treatment systems, single-use plastic products used for transport and feed packaging, containers for agrochemicals, and pond liners contribute to plastic pollution and marine litter at the end of their life cycles,” she stated.
“Pond liners are the biggest quantity of plastic waste that comes out of the sector today,” Kohler mentioned in a documentary released at the event to launch the bags on June 15.
|Franziska Sophie Kohler, team leader at GIZ in Vietnam, speaks at a launch event hosted by Dong Dong in Ho Chi Minh City on June 15, 2023. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
Statistics quoted by GIZ showed that in 2022, there were 737,000 hectares of shrimp farms in Vietnam, and the volume of tarps used as pond liners every year was 1.7 to 2.6 metric tons per hectare.
The tarps used in shrimp farming are replaced every few years.
During their journey of collecting discarded pond liners, GIZ and Dong Dong learned the tarps are occasionally reused to cover chicken coops or dry grains. Other times, they are simply burned.
“While some of the material can be reused, much of it ends up polluting the Mekong Delta,” said Tran Kieu Anh, founder and CEO of Dong Dong.
“Many shrimp farms are small-scale, with each household handling their own agricultural waste, so there is no widespread solution to recycling [used tarps].
“Bringing used tarpaulin from shrimp farming into our supply chain means we can reduce agricultural waste, support farmers, and create beautiful new products for our customers.”
Now, instead of being thrown away, the tarps are collected, treated, cleaned, and transformed into rainproof, shock-resistant, and eco-friendly messenger bags by Dong Dong.
|People join a challenge to test the new bags' shockproof feature at a launch event hosted by Dong Dong in Ho Chi Minh City on June 15, 2023. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
Cleaning that matters
The tarps used by Dong Dong were collected from shrimp farms in the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang and brought back to Ho Chi Minh City for categorization and washing.
It took four months before the company’s new collection of bags was ready for release to the public.
Despite being experienced in recycling old plastic tarpaulins, shrimp pond liners still posed challenges to the brand.
"The hardest part was cleaning because the tarpaulins were in the mud for years,” Dong Dong CEO Anh told Tuoi Tre News.
“Shrimp pond lining tarps are made of HDPE, one of the easiest plastic materials to recycle, but people don't recycle them because the cleaning process is expensive," she added.
|Tran Kieu Anh, founder and CEO of Dong Dong, speaks at a launch event hosted by Dong Dong in Ho Chi Minh City on June 15, 2023. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
The brand still persists with its core principle of using eco-friendly detergents which are less harmful to the environment, the executive said.
Shrimp-pond lining tarps were created to resist water absorption and carry heavy weights, making them fit to be served as the 'skeleton' of the new bags, according to the brand.
The bags also comprise layers of EVA foam, polyester lining, and an outermost layer made from recycled awnings or truck tarps.
The bags are waterproof and designed to be shockproof in order to protect electronic devices.
"We want to increase the value of the material as much as possible so that we can turn the tarps into items that people want to buy," Anh said.
Like other products made by Dong Dong, each bag of from recycled shrimp pond tarp is one of its kind because the marks and scratches on each piece of tarp are authentic, so the bag can 'tell' its story.
|Products of Dong Dong are displayed at a launch event hosted by Dong Dong in Ho Chi Minh City on June 15, 2023. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
Just the beginning
According to Anh, the newly released 'shrimp bags' are just the beginning and her team will continue to work on creating other products with the material.
"We know the amount of tarp we can recycle won't change the situation significantly,” she stated.
“We're still moving toward an increase in the average temperature of the earth by 1.5 Celsius degrees in the next ten years, or the Mekong Delta may be underwater by 2050."
What Anh and her team hope is that when other businesses see their 'shrimp bags,' they will be inspired to make more sustainable products.
“Together, we can bring more sustainable options to consumers and, more importantly, make them realize that living green is actually fun, artistic, and fashionable,” the CEO said.
“Dong Dong’s business model upcycles used pond liners, adding value to a product usually perceived as waste through design, creativity, and fashion,” Kohler commented.
“The greater part of Vietnam’s economy still follows linear business models, but there are a growing number of actors full of creative ideas and potential embarking on a path toward a more circular economy despite the obstacles that must be overcome.”