Environment: Doing something about Vietnam's plastic problem - Rusty Compass travel blog

Environment: Doing something about Vietnam's plastic problem

| 22 May 2017
22 May 2017

Cities and countries around the world are getting serious about reducing the amount of plastic waste they produce. In Vietnam, the tourism industry churns through horrendous amounts of plastic. We’d like to do something about it - with a modest little project that we hope will gather momentum. 

Plastic pollution isn’t new. But awareness of just how catastrophic it is for the environment has grown in recent years - especially its impact on the oceans. It may be second only to global warming as a threat to the health of the seas.

Here in Vietnam, we’ve seen very little action. And that’s despite the fact that Vietnam has been identified as one of five countries responsible for more than 60% of the world’s plastic pollution. 

When you consider that barely any plastic was used in Vietnam 25 years ago, that’s a big deal.

I’m amazed to see global coffee chains here in Saigon, serving customers in plastic cups - even when they’re not taking out.

A few years ago I was working as a lecturer on a cruise ship. One afternoon had a an opportunity to take a dip in the ocean around 30kms off Vietnam’s central coast. The ocean was almost perfectly calm.

But when I hit the water, I was shocked to see how much plastic there was, in various states of decomposition - even so far offshore.


30kms off Vietnam's coast we encountered clusters of plastic waste.
Photo: Mark Bowyer 30kms off Vietnam's coast we encountered clusters of plastic waste.


Plastic and other waste on the beach - Phu Quoc Island.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Plastic and other waste on the beach - Phu Quoc Island.


Clusters of plastic waste are a standard feature of a visit to Halong Bay.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Clusters of plastic waste are a standard feature of a visit to Halong Bay.


So together with our sister business in Saigon, The Old Compass Cafe, Rusty Compass would like to take some steps to reduce plastic waste in the tourism industry. Over the coming months, we’ll be working with businesses in the tourism field, especially those recommended on our site, to explore ways that we can reduce our plastic waste. 

As you travel through Vietnam, you’ll notice plastic waste is everywhere - on city streets, in rural areas and on the country’s beautiful beaches. It’s bad enough as visual pollution. But the real damage of plastic begins in its production - which is energy and oil intensive. Then a huge percentage of the plastic we use ends up in the ocean.

If we can make some progress in reducing plastic waste in tourism and getting a wider conversation started outside the tourism industry, that’ll be a great result.


What we’ve done about plastic at The Old Compass Cafe.

Last year, when we opened The Old Compass Cafe in Saigon, we made a commitment to minimise the use of plastic. It wasn’t very difficult - yet we’ve achieved a big reduction in the amount of plastic waste we produce compared to other similar businesses.

We got rid of plastic water bottles and plastic wrapped moist towels, and you made a big dent in our plastic pollution output.

We provide our customers with free spring water (from a recyclable plastic tank). Customers can buy water from glass bottles if they wish. 

We don’t provide plastic wrapped moist towels. I find these perfumed towels pretty gross anyway, so that wasn’t a difficult decision. Our customers have to make do with old-school paper napkins.

Imported glass bottled water isn't really a solution if you’re concerned about environmental damage - the environmental impact of all that transportation is likely to offset any plastic waste reduction.

These were modest but highly effective steps. 


What’s next?

Plastic straws are the only plastic you’ll see in The Old Compass Cafe. We'd like to get rid of them too. At the moment we provide them on request. 

We don’t have a plastic-free kitchen yet either. But we’ve made a start.

There are campaigns under way across Vietnam to reduce plastic waste and clean up beaches. Let us know what’s happening in your community. Cleaning up beaches is important. Reducing our dependence on plastic is even more important.

If you own a cafe, restaurant or hotel and are taking steps to reduce your plastic waste, let us know. We’ll be inviting businesses we recommend to get rid of plastic water bottles and plastic wrapped towels too. We’ll let you know how we go.

We'll also look forward to hearing other innovative steps businesses are taking to reduce their plastic waste.

We’ll be updating this blog regularly with information about businesses joining this little campaign. We're sure travellers will be keen to support these businesses. From our early experience, travellers are well ahead of the industry when it comes to concern about these issues.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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Rusty Compass is an independent travel guide. We’re focused on providing you with quality, unbiased, travel information. That means we don't receive payments in exchange for listings and mostly pay our own way. We’d like tourism to be a positive economic, environmental and cultural force and we believe travellers deserve disclosure from publishers. Spread the word about Rusty Compass, and if you're in Saigon, pop in to The Old Compass Cafe and say hi. It’s our home right downtown on Pasteur St. You can also check out our unique tours of Ho Chi Minh City and Sydney at www.oldcompasstravel.com Make a financial contribution using the link below. Even small amounts make a difference. Thanks and travel well!

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2 comments so far

It's time to take serious actions. Wish I could go back the good old days when we used dried banana to wrap up stuffs in the wet market. Straw bags were widely used. Miss the smell of fresh banana leaf on snack foods.

  • Nuong
  • Phu Quoc Island
  • Tuesday, 23 May 2017 14:51

I highly appreciate your actions. There is a guy on Phu Quoc Island, he owns a bee farm and he is growing bamboo, which he uses as straws. They are undestroyable and work very well. Get in touch with him!

  • Steffi Neukirchen
  • Phu Quoc Island
  • Thursday, 25 May 2017 10:53