Hồ Chí Minh City is the most populated city in Vietnam, more than 8 million inhabitants. Formerly called Saïgon, this city is the economic and industrial heart of Vietnam ahead of Hanoï, which is the political capital. The high development of Hồ Chí Minh City led to important environmental issues. As a striking example, in this city there is an average on 1 motorbike per inhabitant!
Today Vietnamese people are used to throw their plastic waste everywhere, like they did before with biodegradable materials. In Hồ Chí Minh City and in all of the country, there is no centralized waste collection system, the major part of wastes, included plastic, is landfilled.
In this context we met Nhan Nguyen, working in the administration of RMIT University. He is an entrepreneur, became a teacher and has successively created several structures dedicated to fight against plastic pollution in the Vietnam. Today, he is involved in several projects through the organization Viet Nam Sach Va Xanh. We had the chance to discuss with him about the actions organized by his large community in HCMC.
The association Viet Nam Sach Va Xanh (http://vietnamsachvaxanh.org/), which means in English “Keep Vietnam Clean and Green”, was founded in 2013 by Nhan Nguyen. Today, the community has several tens of thousands active people. Facebook is the main communication channel to gather the community and to communicate: https://www.facebook.com/vnsvx/
The goal of the organization is to raise awareness about waste and trash problem in Vietnam. They understand there are many other issues that impact the environment, but their focus is on waste management because they believe that is the most basic of environmental issues and the foundational basis of environmental education.
“How can we educate people about issues like climate change, sustainability, renewable energies and recycling when we can’t get everyone to stop littering?”
The first program was The Green Ribbon: a ribbon represents a promise to not litter. This kind of campaign is simple, easy and it is enormous reach at a minimal cost to support the anti-littering cause. Now any organization, company or group can pick up the Green Ribbon Campaign. What that impressed us is that Nhan Nguyen started alone that first program, giving as many ribbons as possible trying to build a whole new community.
The Clean Ups Community is also a very popular and effective way to raise awareness in Vietnam. Through this kind of campaign, they can raise be proactive in local communities and educating both those involved with the Clean Ups and those who witness them.
They also organize an annual event: The Earth Day Clean Up, in partnership with companies, universities, social organizations and individuals. Last year, several thousand people participated at this event in all Vietnam.
One of the most interesting programs they are working on is The Green Turtle Army, which targets Elementary School children. With the help of teachers and students from the Saigon South International School, they designed activities and lesson plans to be used in elementary schools around Vietnam to spread the Clean and Green! And with the help of RMIT University students, a phone game is being designed to talk about the problems caused by littering!
WHAT NOW ?
For Nhan Nguyen, it is important to have a long-term strategy about waste and plastic pollution. The government involvement can be an efficient lever to accelerate the establishment of sustainable solutions, unfortunately it is not the case today. That is why it is important for “Keep Vietnam Clean and Green” to keep increasing credibility and citizen involvement, hoping the government will legislate one day.
Today, one of the working points is to improve The Green Turtle Army. This phone game has a high impact potential for environmental education on children. Mixing pedagogy and fun seems to be a very efficient way to teach about environment and educate the next generation.
According to the Clean Up program, Nhan Nguyen would like to organize soon a Clean Up Event on the river near his university. Because everyone can take the decision to initiate a movement and clean up his work or live space.
In many South Asia countries, a lot of local initiatives emerge to fight against plastic pollution. Unfortunately, these organizations are usually not supported by governments. Indeed, public authorities often think that investing on these environmental solutions leads to bridle or sacrifice their economic development. That is why NGO’s and citizen associations are important to initiate a change and to impulse public involvement in order to facilitate government participation in these news stakes.