Zero Waste Saigon is a fast expanding social network and planet-friendly movement dedicated to raising awareness and reducing waste in Vietnam. The group provides education, community support and sustainable alternatives to single use plastic and are making waves in the war on waste.
Who They Are
Julia Mesner and Michael Burge are the people behind the programme: An expat couple from the United States that moved to Ho Chi Minh City in November 2017. Travellers at heart, the couple have seen first hand how plastic has wormed its way into some of the world’s most remote places. With their young sons’ future in mind, they are striving to turn the tide on plastic.
With Julia’s marketing expertise and Michael’s tech background, they are the perfect storm. They created a local group back in January of this year that gathered 1000 members in less than a month. Now, just five months on, they have quadrupled their following.
“We are looking for solutions for businesses to lower their use of plastic while raising awareness to the public.”
Julia, Zero Waste Saigon
Why It’s Important
It is reported that Vietnam generates nearly 18,000 tons of plastic waste every day. Only a small fraction of that waste is being recycled, usually by hand. The country is in desperate need of improved infrastructure for waste collection and legislative solutions to prevent waste in the first place.
The waste problem isn’t just confined to major cities. Statistic shows that Vietnam is among the top five countries responsible for the biggest volume of garbage thrown into the ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is currently six times the size of Vietnam (and for those of you who have spent 17 hours on a train through half the country, you can just imagine how enormous that is).
This increase in plastic is leading to ‘dead zones’ that are killing aquatic stock that many millions of people in the country rely on for both their food and livelihood.
“The accumulation of marine debris is a human-made problem that requires a human solution,”
S. Consul General Mary Tarnowka, Earth Day Seminar 2018.
How They’re Doing It
Some argue that the issue of waste can only be tackled from the top down, and others; the ground up. Luckily though, Zero Waste Saigon – and its growing number of supporters – is tacking the problem from both ends.
At least 40 businesses have switched to sustainable alternatives since the movement began in January 2018. Those establishments found Zero Waste Saigon through their Facebook page, expat groups, word-of-mouth or at events like the Earth Day Seminar back in April.
Despite the traction online, Julia and Michael are no strangers to the old fashioned approach. They encourage their followers to simply talk to business owners and encourage them to become more sustainable. Initiating the conversation is where it starts and generally, they say, businesses are happy to talk about the issue.
How We Can Help
Yes, there is a long way to go, and rebelling against the much loved and ever convenient takeaway cup can seem like a losing battle, but there are so many things that we can do to help, from the big (converting a business, or even a politician) to the small (bringing your own back to the supermarket).
“Nobody made a greater mistake than those who did nothing because they could do only a little.”
Zero Waste Saigon provides a plethora of alternatives to the common plastic straw. Bamboo, glass, stainless steel and even disposable (compostable!) rolled green grass leaves. You can buy in bulk or individually through their online store. They also supply coconut cutlery, bowls, compost bins, canvas bags, pouches, mason jars and tea infusers.
In addition to their store, Zero Waste Saigon proposes a number of ways you can help the cause. Talking to your favourite local businesses, changing your workspace and educating your friends, family or children. The team also visits schools around the city to teach kids about the world of waste. If you’re not based in Saigon, their teaching aids are free to download in both English and Vietnamese from their website!
Despite the scale of support they receive, Zero Waste Saigon is still a self-funded enterprise and requires a huge amount of time and effort to keep it running. Julia and Michael are constantly overwhelmed with work and currently don’t have the funds to hire an extra pair of hands.
Thankfully, the community in Saigon has welcomed them with open arms. It’s not only expats and travellers like us who are passionate about this movement; many local Vietnamese people are excited about the changes and are taking the initiative into their own hands.
In the months and years to come, Zero Waste Saigon is hoping to begin working directly with Vietnamese farmers and manufacturers to lay the infrastructure for sustainable products, while simultaneously working with decision makers in Vietnam to reduce waste. There is a long way to go, but it’s a journey worth taking.
“Saigon is a very exciting place to be right now. It is going through a rebirth with lots of new construction, investment and policy changes. What happens now will decide the fate of Saigon far into the future.”
Julia, Zero Waste Saigon