Ha Long Bay to pilot plastic ban on tourism boats

By Nguyen Quy   July 29, 2019 | 07:46 pm PT
Ha Long Bay to pilot plastic ban on tourism boats
Cruise ships in Ha Long Bay, Quang Ninh Province. Photo by Shutterstock/namanh.
A pilot project will see 15 firms stop using plastic bags, bottled water and wet paper towels on Ha Long Bay.

The management board of Ha Long Bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh said 15 local firms providing tourist boats, kayaks and high-speed boats will embark on a pilot program, banning the use of plastic products on sightseeing boats, starting August 1.

The boat owners will replace bottled water with fixed large water jars and travelers will be given glasses made of environmentally friendly materials. Wet paper towels will be replaced with cloth towels that will be collected after use.

Currently, an estimated 5,000 wet napkins and as many plastic bottles are used and discarded daily in the UNESCO heritage site. They contribute to the several thousand tons of trash collected from Ha Long Bay waters each day.

Pham Dinh Huynh, deputy head of the management board, said that to save the world-famous bay from environmental degradation, a joint effort by all stakeholders was needed.

This pilot project will make a start with local tour service providers which offer daily tour services and are the main source of waste pollution, he said. "More tour providers and other industrial sectors will need to make big changes as well."

In the pilot project, the service providers will also need to be more diligent in sorting the waste they take to treatment facilities and consider installing treatment systems on their boats, Huynh added.

Ha Long Bay’s immense popularity as a tourism destination has been accompanied by a growing trash problem that has reached alarming proportions.

In the first half of 2019, 573 tons – 220 coastal and 353 offshore – was collected from the bay, local authorities said. To collect and deal with this volume, they have spent nearly VND14 billion ($603,700), but this has proved inadequate. Most of the garbage dumped in the bay by residents and tourists are plastic bags and bottles.

Last year, people were shocked to hear that volunteers had collected 741 kilos of waste in just one hour, along two beaches on Ha Long Bay, one of the most visited tourism destinations in the country.

Consultants hired by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to advise on tourism and waste management at the UNESCO heritage site noted that "rapid increases in visitor numbers and pollution have damaged the reputation of Ha Long Bay, especially in the eyes of foreigners".

70 percent of the trash, collected from the Coc Cheo and Ang Du beaches, was styrofoam and the rest were plastic bags and bottles, food packaging, fishing net and clothing, officials said. 

In an interview last year, Trilok Narain, who has decades of international experience in senior positions in the hospitality industry, particularly in Southeast Asia, told VnExpress International that beaches in the country were being trashed at an alarming rate, and that Vietnam should seriously consider banning the use of styrofoam and single use plastic.

"Beach tourism is a big draw for tourism worldwide. Hotel and tourism operators need to make environmental sustainability part of their daily routine and raise awareness among all stakeholders, including owners, management, staff, vendors and customers," Narain said.

Vietnam is the fourth-largest contributor to marine plastic pollution globally, a 2015 study by the University of Georgia showed.

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