People in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City have embraced weekend trash-for-food events held by the local youth union chapter to raise awareness of garbage classification and hand out food to the needy as well.
The weekly activity, “Doi rac tai che lay thuc pham” (Exchanging recyclable trash for food), is organized in a joint effort between Ward 4 Chapter of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union in District 5 and other collectives to promote trash classification at the source.
People can bring sorted recyclables including plastic and paper to Ward 4 People’s Committee office in District 5 every Saturday to receive small gifts, such as uncooked rice, sugar, cooking oil and soy sauce they can bring back to their families.
Pushing her bicycle loaded with discarded cardboard boxes to the exchange point, Kim Chi, an event-goer, shared she often brings in discarded cardboard boxes and scrap collected from a grocery store in her neighborhood and receives uncooked rice and cooking oil in exchange.
“Exchanging trash for rice is such a practical, meaningful act. I also told my neighbors to sort out trash and exchange recyclables for gifts for our own family or for the needy,” Chi said.
Nguyen Ba Khai is also enthusiastic about the upcycling project.
The senior man brought in a pack of plastic bottles and scrap paper.
“I always put aside recyclables which I can swap for rice. That saves me some,” Khai said.
“With one kilogram of plastic waste or three kilograms of scrap paper, I can bring home one kilogram of rice. That adds value to the trash.”
Tran My Linh joins the program for a good reason.
For a sack of scrap paper, Linh received nearly 10 kilograms of rice, which she would give over to an older neighbor who does not have friends or family to rely on.
“I sometimes drop by to check on her and bring the old woman something,” she shared.
Apart from raising people’s awareness that small acts can be made to protect the environment, organizers and volunteers also reach out to those in need.
Le Thanh Quang, secretary of Ward 4 Chapter of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union, District 5, who was on duty at the exchange desk, invited a passing lottery vendor in and gifted her some rice and cooking oil.
“Besides collecting recyclables, we dole out necessities for lottery ticket vendors and xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers,” he revealed.
Quang is not new to such community work.
As the city was under enhanced social distancing rules during earlier outbreaks of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as a means of stemming the spread of the viral disease, he and other volunteers called for donations in rice and other necessities for poor households and doled out 2,000 free face mask which they made themselves.
They also handed out complimentary food servings to households placed in quarantine.
Phan Thi My Phung, secretary of Ward 3 Chapter of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union, District 6, the location of an alley where nearly 200 individuals were put into quarantine, said volunteers also went food shopping for the affected people when necessary.
According to Nguyen Van Hung, chair of Ward 4 Chapter of Vietnam Fatherland Front, District 5, the ward’s program of exchanging recyclables for food was originally slated to run in November 2020 only.
With the program a success, the organizers decided to extend it into December, doling out more than four metric tons of rice, 500 bottles of cooking oil, 200 bottles of soy sauce and other foods.
They also plan to launch a clothes store that gives underprivileged people a variety of gratis clothing items to choose from.
“The launch of the zero-dong store will alleviate poor laborers’ difficulty and help those hit by the pandemic get through the tough time,” Hung noted.
Nguyen Van Tien, a wholesale scrap dealer who assists in Ward 4’s trash-for-food program, warmly embraced the green initiative.
“If everyone can go green, we’ll be able to enjoy a less polluted environment. This is good for our health and in the long run helps us protect ourselves from climate change and the adverse effects it entails,” he stressed.
Tien said he would donate all the money from selling recyclable items so that the program organizers can afford more gifts for needy locals.
The District 1 Chapter of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union and other youth collectives also kick-started its own social event of exchanging waste for rice, other necessities or plants.
The program offered rice, sugar, cooking oil, plants or fresh veggies for any amount of plastic waste, used batteries or discarded electronic parts donated to its ambitious upcycle plan.
“Through the program, we want to push a sustainability message that protecting the environment in our daily life is ensuring our own health,” explained Nguyen Thuy Bao Tran, deputy chair of the District 1 Chapter of Vietnam Youth Federation.