These five initiatives want to beat plastic pollution in Southeast Asia
We can only solve our plastic problem if we clean up the oceans and landfills, drastically minimize plastic production, and recycle existing plastics. But until we get there, we need to keep the madness under control. These five initiatives from Vietnam and Cambodia are trying just that. Read More
We can only solve our plastic problem if we clean up the oceans and landfills, drastically minimize plastic production, and recycle existing plastics. But until we get there, we need to keep the madness under control. These five initiatives from Vietnam and Cambodia are doing just that.
Southeast Asia has a bad reputation when it comes to plastic pollution, and this isn’t necessarily undeserved: Together with China, the four SEA countries Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam alone are dumping more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the world combined.
Indonesia’s Citarum River was recently dubbed the most polluted in the world. And what’s more, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) informed the SEA countries that their plastic waste policies still lagged behind in late 2019.
And yet, this bad reputation doesn’t reveal the whole truth. While politics don’t seem to be making much progress, people are: Countless initiatives in the region are cleaning up communities, educating locals, offering alternatives to plastic, and boosting local economies through recycling. These five initiatives are proof that simple ideas and initiatives can drive change, and that every one of us can contribute.
Waste pick-up at your doorstep
Once a user has entered his or her personal details into the mGreen app, recycling becomes the most convenient way of getting rid of household trash in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s two largest cities. The app identifies the closest local recycling collector who will come right to the doorstep whenever a client calls to pick up sorted garbage and deliver it to junk collectors and recycling plants. And there’s more: For each kilo of waste handed over to the collectors, the app offers reward points that can be used to get discounts from corporate partners for shopping, dining or travelling, for example.
Through their pick-up service, mGreen wants to improve people’s recycling habits and fill a gap that the government has left unattended: the fact that many people in Vietnam have little to no access to waste recycling facilities. Currently, the company is facilitating the recycling of 500 kg of waste per day and services about 2,000 users in 20 apartment complexes.
Making money from plastic waste
Making money from plastic waste – not a bad idea, right? Six innovators from Saigon have found that modern 3D printing technology might help local people earn a living while at the same time keeping their communities clean. Most plastic waste can be shredded, melted down and upcycled using a 3D printer. The machine transforms the liquid paste into pretty much any object, like lamps, chairs, and tables. And while 3D printing may still sound like an expensive, elaborate technology to many, building them has actually become relatively easy since Dutch designer Dave Hakkens published his “Precious Plastic open-source instructions”. Just like tens of thousands of people from all around the world, the six innovators are part of the Precious Plastic open-source community and are now building the 3D printing machines themselves. Their aim: to transform rubbish into objects that locals can sell to earn money.
Building houses out of plastic waste
While we’re on the topic of recycling plastic, why not build houses out of plastic waste? Very few people are aware that plastic is a resistant building material and ideal as insulation. Old plastic bottles filled with plastic and Styrofoam waste can be used to fill house walls. This simple invention, also known as “eco-bricks”, has already been tested in other regions of the world. In Vietnam, the Les Pas Verts initiative organises community events for awareness raising and motivates people to collectively stuff plastic bottles with old plastic bags.
Recycling rubbish, renewing lives
“Recycling rubbish, renewing lives” is the motto of the daily workshops run by the Green Gecko social enterprise in Cambodia that are directed at Khmer women who are living and begging on the streets. Khmer women are increasingly migrating from the poorer countryside to the cities in search of employment, and many end up in miserable living conditions. In the Rehash Trash trainings, they learn how to up-cycle roadside rubbish into household and fashion items. By selling these items, they are able to generate an income and support their families.
The Green Turtle Army
Teach ‘em while they’re young: A video game aims to teach Vietnamese school kids the importance of not littering. Kids play as the Green Turtle Hero character, whose job is to kill ferocious little litter monsters and kick bottles, faeces and any other litter that crosses their path into nearby dustbins. The jump-and-run game is part of the latest environmental campaign of non-profit Vietnam Sach va Xanh (‘Keep Vietnam Clean and Green’), which has been organizing anti-littering campaigns and community clean-ups all around the country since 2013. The Green Turtle Army mascots, which were developed especially for this campaign, are adaptations of the mythological “Long Huy”, a creature that is both turtle and dragon. Apart from the video game, the Green Turtle Army characters are used to create activities and lessons for elementary schools.
Want to know more? Watch the documentary!
In June and July 2018, Australian activists Paul Hellier and Jamie Lepre cycled through Southeast Asia to meet with groups and individuals fighting plastic pollution in the region. These community activists feature in the “Peloton Against Plastic” documentary currently being screened all around Australia and Europe. Paul Hellier is the founder of the Australian Fair Food Forager app that allows people to search and rate sustainable food venues. Jamie Lepre is an actor, activist and filmmaker representing the “eco-minded social organization” Environment-To-Be. If you would like to organise a screening in your city, contact the Peloton against Plastic team via their website.