How One Activist Is Fighting Plastic Pollution

Nicole Portley, Marine Campaigner
Date: December 2, 2018
Vietnamese zero waste activist Dinh Thi Hang sorts waste during a recent waste audit.

There are 8 billion tons of plastic on the planet. And once it’s made—it never goes away. So, where does it go?

In Vietnam, it often ends up in the ocean.

Dinh Thi Hang was born and raised in iconic Ha Long Bay, a city that is changing rapidly. New businesses, convention centers, restaurants, and hotels are seemingly opening every day, creating enormous amounts of waste.

“When I walk through the city in the evening, I see trash containers overflowing, garbage scattered across the streets, and it reeks,” says Hang.

These enormous amounts of waste are a relatively recent development in Vietnam and have caused a garbage crisis, even provoking citizen protests in the streets. Meanwhile, plastic and other trash is leaking into the ocean from overflowing dumping sites.

Last September, Dinh Thi Hang (in pink hoodie) and fellow activists sorted through 2,000 pounds of trash to develop tailored waste management solutions that will help transition local communities in Vietnam to zero waste.

Hang is working at Greenhub, a grassroots organization founded by three young women that is bringing “bring fresh minds and youthful enthusiasm” to Vietnamese environmental activism. Here she is helping to introduce the concept of zero waste to her fellow citizens after learning about it herself during two recent waste audits with Pacific Environment and other zero waste campaigners.

“When I started, I didn’t know how to separate waste or that trash can actually be recycled. I mixed everything and threw it all away,” says Hang. “I now know how to separate waste and that 90% of waste can be composted or recycled, which reduces the amount of waste that can leak into the environment.”

“Because of my own experience,” says Hang, “I think outreach and education is key to moving Vietnam toward a zero waste future.”

Hang knows that the plastic trash crisis can only be solved when today’s polluters stop producing plastic. But, she says, “I think that everyone should separate their waste.” Because Hang believes that understanding where the waste comes from and where it goes will increase public pressure on plastic polluters to develop more sustainable packaging—stopping plastic waste at its source.

By 2030, China’s new plastic import ban will redirect an estimated 111 million metric tons of plastic waste toward other countries, primarily in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons).

“If we don’t act, I fear that in the next few years Ha Long will be drowning in waste,” says Hang.

We will be working with Hang and other Vietnamese zero waste activists to get citizens and businesses to commit to recycling and reducing waste by 25% over the next two years, all in pursuit of our ultimate goal: to get to zero waste in Vietnam by 2030.

Along the way, we hope to make Hang’s dream come true: to turn Ha Long into a zero waste city “people are eager to visit and never want to leave.”