A recent report published by the World Economic Forum claims that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. And countries like Vietnam have been identified as major contributors. In fact, earlier this year, Tuoi Tre News stated that Vietnam produces 18,000 tons of plastic waste every day. Despite the worrying rise in waste, there are a growing number of people, businesses, and organizations here in Vietnam that advocate green alternatives such as Zero Waste Saigon or Noi Khong voi Tui Ni Long (Say No to Plastic Bags).
During our search to discover the zero waste businesses leading the charge against plastic waste, we found restaurants such as Hanoi-based Cousins, cafes like Bluebird Nest, and shops like the Organik House that have started boycotting plastic and have switched to biodegradable or reusable alternatives.
Zero Waste in Vietnam: A Guide to Going Green
1: Ditch the packaging With Vietnam’s sustainable soapers ditch plastic
Switching from shampoo and bodywash bottles to soap bars is not only waste-reducing, but also cost-effective. A single bar of soap can outlast two to three liquid bottle alternatives. Soap, in its solid form, is also convenient for travel, thus reducing the amount of travel bottles and hotel toiletries you use.
Founded in 2013, Ho Chi Minh City’s Green Garden sells handmade soaps using local ingredients such as coconut oil, cocoa powder, and tea leaves. “You can use our soaps on any body part, but we recommend the Beer Bar, Rice Bar, and Honey Bar specifically for your hair,” co-founder Hai Dang says.
If you’re in Hanoi, we suggest visiting Papa Dreamer—a small family run business that makes organic soaps. What started as a project by a chemical engineer out to make natural soap for his daughter has now become a well-loved local brand that crafts plastic, nylon, and palm-oil free soap every day.
2: No More Straws: How food and beverage businesses are saying no to plastic
In May 2018, the European Commission proposed a ban on single-use plastic products including straws and takeaway cups. Even though there isn’t yet a similar policy enacted here, more and more establishments are making an effort to produce zero waste in Vietnam.
Hanoi’s Ga Phe Cafe and Lutulata traditional dessert house were both early to adapt to the use and sale of steel and bamboo straws. Oriberry, Blue Bird, and West Station also made a switch from plastic to paper straws some time ago too.
3: Refuse and reuse over recycle and the power of partnerships
In Switzerland, Hong Kong, and England, people are carrying out “plastic attacks.” They buy groceries and leave the wrappings at the checkout to show how much plastic supermarkets use. To achieve zero waste in Vietnam, you can bring your own cloth bags, or reuse the plastic ones lying in your drawers.
You can also visit Julia and Michael Burdges’ Zero Waste Saigon. It’s a one-stop shop for all things zero waste in Vietnam. In just ten months, these eco-warriors founded the Zero Waste Facebook Group, opened a shop, and partnered with 15 restaurants to help them switch to biodegradable alternatives. The shop offers a range of reusable products from bags and compost bins to reusable thermos and bubble tea straws.
Elsewhere in Ho Chi Minh City, “Green Around the Corner” café in Thao Dien is the brainchild of expat Su Mele. It doubles as a concept store as the owner collects sustainable products from local businesses. Some of our highlights are their upcycle toy cars made from architectural scraps, bring-your-own-bottle refillable liquid shampoo, and soap nuts repurposed as natural detergent. Be sure to check out their “DIY Bee Wrap” workshop, where they teach you how to make reusable food wraps using beeswax.
In Hanoi, the first zero waste store, Go Eco Hanoi, opened in early July. “It’s hard to make a change because people don’t know where to start. I wanted to create a store that makes it easier for people to live a green lifestyle,” founder Thao Hoang shares. The store sells items like bamboo toothbrushes and pens. “Zero Waste is a relative term. We consume and produce just by using electricity or transportation. What we can do is reduce our impact,” Thao adds.
4: Dine waste free in ethical eateries
Traditionally, Vietnamese food stalls don’t have take-out options. It’s normal to bring your own steel lunch box for a piping hot bowl of pho. For dry products, banana leaves used to be the go-to packaging option, as it adds extra flavor and a pleasant, distinct scent. Nowadays, it’s more common to have your food wrapped in a few layers of styrofoam and plastic. Luckily, there are alternatives.
Hanoi’s Chops is a popular chain that boasts high-quality burgers and local craft beers. It was also one of the first restaurants to use sugarcane fiber packaging for its takeout orders. “Even our internal deliveries are zero waste. We have a central kitchen that delivers food to all three restaurants, and we do this using reusable containers,” says general manager Greg Clarke.
If you are seeking a lighter lunch, check out the healthy meal delivery service Spoonit. Not only do they package their salads in biodegradable boxes, they also give out steel spoons and glass jars for their sauces. “For us, using sustainable packaging represents a larger lifestyle, one that leaves minimum impact on the earth,” co-founder of Spoonit, Ha Thai , explains.
No more single-use. Period.
An average woman is estimated to produce nearly 30,000 kilograms worth of period waste in her lifetime. On top of that, single-use pads and tampons are bleached with chlorine dioxide, creating dioxin—a harmful byproduct that remains in the body for decades. There are two alternatives that produce zero waste in Vietnam: cloth pads and menstrual cups.
Green Lady Vietnam just released their handmade reusable pads in July 2018. Founder Ngoc Bui got the inspiration when she attended Ecovillage Design Education in Thailand, where she discovered Eco Femme—a reusable pad brand from India. Ngoc came back to Vietnam and released a line of linen pads, 100% made-in-Vietnam. “In the future, we wish to expand our products to include washable diapers and linen underwear. Right now, we focus on giving workshops about period pollution to Vietnamese women,” Bui says. “You can use the pads for three to four years at VND 100,000 per pad.”
If pads aren’t for you, the menstrual cup could make for a good alternative. Lincup from Lintimate is an FDA-approved product made from antibacterial silicone. The cup can last up to 12 hours and allows you to do sports including swimming. The cost of a cup is VND 750,000 and you can use each one for up to four years.