Saigon’s plastic wave rises to a Guinness world record

By Sen    February 19, 2019 | 05:32 am PT
Saigon’s plastic wave rises to a Guinness world record
A group of boys run through the parted waves built from plastic straws at a palace in HCMC. Behind them, on the wall, the project’s tagline, #strawpocalypse, can be seen faintly. Photo by Thanh Nguyen
The ‘Parting of the Plastic Sea’ installation has been recognized as the world’s 'largest drinking straw sculpture.'

The Guinness World Records granted the recognition on Friday to the art work, which is a brainchild of Canadian artist Benjamin Von Wong and Zero Waste Saigon (ZWS), a non-profit which aims to help people reduce their waste with 11,000 followers.

The sculpture stands 3.3 meters (10 ft 9 in) tall, 8 meters (36 ft 2 in) long and 4.5 meters (14 ft 9 in) wide. The parting of the sea, allowing people to walk through, aims to impress on them the mind-boggling reality of staggering amounts of plastic being dumped in the ocean.

While plastic straws might not be the biggest problem, they are ubiquitous and a daily use item that people can easily relate to, Von Wong had told VnExpress International at the opening of the Strawpocalypse project last month.

It is predicted that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish by weight at sea, according to a 2016 report released by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The number of straws employed at the project were measured by using a luggage scale and an excel spreadsheet. Two independent witnesses were present for the count and de-count, according to Guinness World Records.

The collection of straws needed for the art work was made possible by ZWS’s big cleanup events in Hanoi, Saigon, and the popular beach towns Nha Trang, and Vung Tau at the end of last year.

The two month cleanup attracted hundreds of volunteers, mostly 15 to 24 years old, who used sticks, pickers and bare hands, not only to collect straws, but also clear many different kinds of trash from streets, manholes, and rivers.

Café and restaurant owners, as well as individuals who bought straws but never used them, also made donations.

Von Wong and ZWS both invested their personal funds in this social impact project, which was partly sponsored by Starbucks Vietnam. In order to garner enough straws for the attempt, the company installed straw collection bins at their outlets across the country.

Among many ways the recognition could help ZWS go forward is the credibility that the project has gained.

The project had received some flak as some said the teams had bought brand new straws.

"We have a reliable third party (Guinness World Records) verifying that our 168,037 straws were in fact used straws," said Michael Burdge, one of the founders of ZWS.

This is Von Wong and ZWS’s first Guinness World Record.

Wong said that he was overjoyed. He said that he was not sure how it would help in the future, but hoped it would open more doors for him to engage in social impact projects.

"As an artist, I don’t get to choose where the next project is. I just have to wait for the next opportunity to come.

"I really enjoyed my time here. I feel like Saigon’s the city where anything could happen," he said.

He expects to return to Vietnam for the deconstruction to figure out what he and ZWS will do with the remaining straws.

A couple of options lie on the list for Strawpocalypse's phase 2. One company has offered to collect and melt them down to make another products. Two different parties have also shown interest to adopt the art work, but no conclusion has been reached.

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