As countries in Europe have moved to ban a range of single-use plastics to curb pollution, the issue remains unaddressed in Vietnam where flourishing coffee franchises continue to favor plastic cups and utensils over glass or ceramic ware.
At a popular coffee chain in Vietnam with hundreds of stores nationwide, every drink on the menu is served in plastic cups, even for dine-in customers.
Visiting one of its locations inside a shopping mall in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, your correspondent asked employees why they did not use glass or ceramic cups for drinks served on the spot.
“Is this your first time here?” an employee seemed surprised by the question.
“There’s no glass or ceramic ware here. Plastic cups are convenient and leave no dishes to be cleaned. Customers can clean up after themselves when they’ve finished,” the employee explained.
Inside the packed store, plastic straws and cups could be seen lying around on every of its 20-strong tables.
For takeaways, the amount of plastics used is even more alarming, as each drink or food is individually wrapped in its own plastic bag before being put into a bigger bag, with plastic utensils provided generously even when they are not asked for.
|Dine-in customers are served drinks in plastic cups at a coffee shop in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
“If we don’t use plastics, what are the alternatives?” asked the owner of a bubble tea shop on Pham Van Dong Street in Ho Chi Minh City.
My, 23, an office worker in Phu Nhuan District, recalls an experience when a coffee shop in the southern metropolis refused to sell her a drink in a reusable cup she had brought along, insisting instead on using plastic cups available at the store.
“They said I could pour the drink from the plastic cup into my reusable cup on my own, but they would have to deliver it to me in the plastic cup nonetheless,” My said.
Thanh, 40, who has worked for more than a decade as a garbage collector in Ho Chi Minh City, said there has been an observable increase in plastic wastes in the city in recent years as coffee and fast food chains began to flourish.
These include items of different shapes and sizes, ranging from spoons, straws and bags to cups, bowls, and plates, all used only once before they are thrown away.
“I’ve heard about the harmful environmental effects of single-use plastics but I didn’t pay much attention to them,” said Doan Thi Thap, 30, a resident in District 9.
“Plastics are everywhere and used by everyone. Even if you’re aware that they’re bad, you can’t avoid using them,” she said.
Last week, the European Parliament voted to ban a range of single-use plastics such as straws, cotton buds and cutlery and to ensure most bottles are recycled in a bid to curb ocean pollution.
Under the proposal, ten single-use plastic products would be banned by 2021 and EU states are obliged to recycle 90 percent of plastic bottles by 2025.