News - April 24, 2024 | 05:00 am PT

Can Gio is the coastal district of HCMC, and its extensive mangrove forests and wetlands are considered the city’s "green lung."

It is unique in also being a UNESCO world biosphere reserve, but it faces mounting pressure from urban pollution, especially plastic waste from land-based, river, and coastal sources.

This is critical, as HCMC is the largest producer of municipal solid waste in Vietnam.

GreenHub, with the support from The Coca-Cola Foundation, identified the opportunity to address this challenge with local partners. Developing a circular model approach to plastic waste management in Can Gio can protect the environment, recover value from waste, offer local economic benefits, and promote the cooperation of consumers, waste collectors, and recycling businesses.

As part of the project, GreenHub and The Coca-Cola Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding with the Can Gio People’s Committee and Duy Tan Plastic Recycling Company in 2022 to connect participants in the local waste value chain.

The project met the expected outcomes and delivered a collaborative foundation for fostering circular economy solutions in PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic waste collection for disadvantaged women, local businesses, and communities in Can Gio.

It enabled government, businesses, civic groups, professional organizations, communities, and individuals to become directly involved and understand circular economy concepts and solutions.

The project mainly focused on establishing connections between independently operated waste collection units in Can Gio, depots, and qualified recycling factories. This strategic initiative aims to create a closed-loop waste system and foster livelihood stability for local scrap collectors.

These connections are crucial determinants for the success of the plastic waste recycling journey, laying the groundwork for a circular economy of plastic in the future.

However, while scrap collection is heavy lifting, most households in Can Gio earn income from this job. Those doing the heavy lifting are often grandmas, mothers, and sisters.

Therefore, the project team finds out the difficulties they are facing and gives them a helping hand.

One such case is scrap collector Nguyen Thi Chau, 60. Chau has earned her living by collecting scrap for more than 10 years.

Due to her poor health, she needed a new cart to help her easily collect and transfer scrap.

The project team gifted her a steel cart that was able to handle up to 1,000 kg. She can now collect around 300 kg of scrap in 4 to 5 hours.

"When I went out to collect recyclables, I pushed the old cart with all my strength to make it move, so it was very tiring even though the cart looked very small. But now, with the new, larger one, it's much easier to push because the wheels turn smoothly. In the past, I didn't have the means to repair the old cart, so I had to endure it. Therefore, I am very grateful for the project, " Chau said.

Nguyen Thi Chinh, 46, has worked as a scrap collector for 11 years. Instead of going around on an old motorbike to collect scraps, she now has a steel cart provided by the project team.

"I can collect up to 80–100 kg of recyclables every day with the new cart, much more than 40–50 kg by motorbike," she said.

Above all, the value of the plastic waste recycling chain in Can Gio cannot be completed without the dedicated efforts of small collection points, such as those of Chau and Chinh.

The success of the project comes from the plastic value chain in general and the small collection points in particular.

GreenHub also collaborated with Duy Tan Plastics in purchasing plastic waste from scrap collectors for recycling under the project.

Trung Hang is one of the scrap collectors providing plastic waste for Duy Tan’s plants. Since September 2022, Duy Tan has recycled over 62 tons of plastic waste from Trung Hang.

Therefore, it is not only about plastic recycling but also the transformative impact on the circular economy of plastic waste.

In Can Gio, locals make a living mainly by fishing and aquaculture, which are mostly for men. Many women are housewives without a stable income. There are not many job opportunities in the district. Therefore, work training and providing non-agriculture jobs is essential.

This is why the Green Sewing Team was born.

In collaboration with the local government and Can Gio District’s Women's Union, the project team established the Green Sewing Team to develop the local economy while protecting the mangrove ecosystem and marine resources.

20 members of the team, who are mostly women, make use of old advertising banners and fabric scraps to create eco-friendly products such as lunch bags, pencil cases, and shopping baskets. Each of them is in charge of different tasks, from material selection to sewing, packaging, and delivery.

The project team also donated two sewing machines to the women for better production.

After over a year, nearly 2,000 recycled products were made from over 1,000 kg of used advertising banners and 100 kg of fabric scraps, earning more than US$320 and reducing approximately 1,000 kg of PVC, PP, and PE plastic waste.

Additionally, they have also received three orders for 5,000 shopping bags each, scheduled for delivery in May 2024.

To raise awareness about environmental protection and curricular economy, the organizer of the project "Plastic waste management in Can Gio based on a circular economy model" and local governments jointly held a contest for women to create recycled items.

The contest attracted 19,245 women, with 4,000 kg of waste collected.

They also earned more than US$240 from scrap collection, which was spent on more than 250 meals for disadvantaged people.

The initiative is a strong foundation for empowering women and plays a pivotal role in promoting sustainable development.

Such activities make local women feel proud and help them find the meaning of a healthy life, which creates a positive impact on the community.

Through the campaigns, the local people recognized how important environmental protection and the circular economy are.

The project team and Can Gio People’s Committee co-hosted a series of training sessions on waste sorting and promoting simple waste recycling solutions such as organic composting and homemade enzyme cleaners.

Nguyen Thi Lien, who attended the sessions, said what she learned from the sessions affected her daily life. Thanks to them, her family and she know the right way of waste sorting and composting process as well.

Like Lien’s family, they can make big changes in the community. Waste becomes a resource if people have the right knowledge and are ready to pursue long-term environmental sustainability.

The project also targets teachers and students.

Many sessions on waste recycling and sustainable practices take place in local schools. Aside from theoretical knowledge, the training sessions supported and empowered teachers to become advocates for sustainable living.

They not only integrate messages of nature appreciation and waste management into various topics and contexts for students but also promote ecological concepts.

The approach aims to help students understand environmental issues as well as to emotionally connect with the place where they live.

Meanwhile, students are expected to become "environmental ambassadors" through the sessions, which provide soft skills, critical thinking, and knowledge of waste sorting.

Students attending the sessions say that they gained new knowledge of waste sorting and the sessions were interesting.

The project team also collaborated with the Can Gio Department of Education and Training and the Department of Natural Resources and Environment to organize the "Greentalk" competition, where students and teachers shared ideas about plastic waste recycling, environmental protection, and building a sustainable community.

Vo Thi Diem Phuong, representative of the Can Gio Department of Education and Training, said that the sessions helped both teachers and students deeply understand how important environmental protection is.

With the consultation of GreenHub and the sponsorship of the Coca-Cola Foundation, the Can Gio People’s Committee also integrated and mainstreamed parts of the project implementation into the local government environment plan.

This enabled strong cooperation and participation by communities and district environmental organizations.

Under the project, 152 tons of waste have been collected, sorted, and recycled.

The two largest waste collection points in Can Gio have been connected, with help from teachers and students, officials, workers, and households in Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve to jointly collect and sort waste at the source.

With remarkable achievements after two years of conducting the project, GreenHub and The Coca-Cola Foundation are looking at opportunities to expand it to other provinces in Vietnam.

Besides The Coca-Cola Foundation’s projects, Coca-Cola has a clear strategy for plastic waste management and the circular economy of plastic waste, with a commitment to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can sold globally by 2030, heading to a World Without Waste.