Learning to say no to plastic bags

Leaving the market, Nguyen Bich Hao from Phung Khac Khoan street, Hanoi’s Hai Ba Trung District carries almost all the food and other items she has bought in her handbasket.
Leaving the market, Nguyen Bich Hao from Phung Khac Khoan street, Hanoi’s Hai Ba Trung District carries almost all the food and other items she has bought in her handbasket.

Only one plastic bag for raw meat or fish is used, in contrast with the dozens of plastic bags many shoppers use during a single trip to the market or supermarket in Vietnam.

"Plastic bags that are disposed of and buried underground take hundreds of years to disintegrate, causing environmental pollution and there are also harmful chemicals used in making plastic bags," Hao said.

The 67-year-old woman said that handbaskets used to be a popular choice for Vietnamese housewives while doing shopping in the past.

"Things have changed, now most people use plastic bags as they are more convenient, single-use and then are thrown away as rubbish," she said.

As a member of the local Women's Union, Hao began using a handbasket following the launch of a campaign to say ‘no' to plastic bags several years ago. She also sets a good example for other women in her neighbourhood, and some have changed their habits.

Pham Kim Thu from Hoa Ma street, said she often collects used plastic bags to give back to vegetable sellers at the market, where they are reused.

Another housewife, Nguyen Hong Hanh, 27, from Hoang Mai district, said she opts to use reusable bags after receiving a free one from a local supermarket last year. These types of bags have become common in Western countries such as Australia, where the use of plastic bags at supermarkets is discouraged.

Unfortunately, examples such as Hao are rare in Vietnam today.

About 2,500 tonnes of plastic waste are discharged daily across the country, more than three times the volume in 2000. Between 60 to 70 percent of plastic waste that is thrown away is collected and treated.

Each person uses about 30-35kg of plastic each year, according to figures from Hanoi's Natural Resources and Environment Department director Vu Van Hau, who noted the statistics at an event highlighting the need to stop using plastic bags in Hanoi on Oct. 30.

In the capital city alone, about 70-80 tonnes of plastic products are used each day, with sometimes ineffective classification and recycling making waste a huge threat to the environment and human health, according to the department's vice director Pham Van Khanh.

Khanh said it will take years for people to get rid of the habit of using plastic bags because of their low price and convenience.

The Oct. 30 event, which was planned as a street festival themed "Hanoi – Sunday without plastic bags", drew thousands of people to Thong Nhat (Unification) Park.

The Natural Resources and Environment Department's director Vu Van Hau said this yearly event, first launched in 2009, has successfully raised public awareness on environment protection, encouraging people to use environmentally-friendly bags.

Many wards, communes and enterprises in the city have carried out measures to eliminate plastic bags, he said, pointing out the example of women in Gia Lam district's Kieu Ki commune, who refuse to use plastic bags and opt for handbaskets when shopping.

This year' activities are held across the city from October to December, and are expected to gain an even greater response from local people.

Local supermarkets and major traditional markets including Big C, Hapro, Hom Market and Buoi Market saw more consumers using reusable bags that were provided under several campaigns. The number of enterprises to join the programme has also increased, said Hau.

The city calls on enterprises to invest in environmental-friendly bags to replace plastic ones, and offered support such as preferential policies for businesses investing in production of environmentally-friendly bags.

Vice chairwoman of the Hanoi Women's Union Tran Thi Phuong Hoa said women plays a decisive role in eliminating plastic bags as they are mainly responsible for shopping for food and domestic appliances.

Moreover, they are sensitive to issues of food safety and health, so providing them with proper understanding can lead to whole families changing their habits.

She said the union has about 700,000 members committed to working together on eliminating plastic bags through practical actions such as using alternative bags, classifying waste, collecting plastic bags and waste paper to exchange for cloth bags.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam Environment Administration (VEA) has gathered opinions on a proposal on eliminating plastic bags. The draft plan will soon be submitted to the Prime Minister for approval./.

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