By Tran Man Linh
After graduating from university in France, Tran Hong Ngan – a Vietnamese girl (21 years old) returned to her home town and founded Zero Waste Ha Tinh, the very first local initiative focusing on practical solutions on environmental problems.
Ngan’s motivation to found Zero Waste Ha Tinh was driven by two reasons. Firstly, while studying in France, Ngan had a chance to observe and involve in an eco-friendly lifestyle. The country has reduced decisively the production of single-use plastic items so its citizens have a rather good awareness of environment protection. As a Vietnamese who is feeling the responsibility in advancing the sustainable development of her country, Ngan was determined to encourage this way of living in Vietnam. Secondly, it is the situation in her home town – Ha Tinh province that really dawned on Ngan that she had to take action. Ha Tinh beach used to be known as a beautiful destination for long, but it is presently flooded with plastics from the locals’ daily doings and coastal touristic activities. Besides that, whenever Ngan went to a coffee shop with friends, she hardly noticed a person bringing his or her own reusable bottle to buy drinks. Instead, all drinks are served in plastic cups, with plastic cutleries. Hence, she decided to launch a project to give solutions to the issue.
In mid-July 2019, the project ‘Zero Waste Ha Tinh’ was founded. Its aim is to alleviate the pollution situation in Ha Tinh province and simultaneously educate local people to have an eco-friendly mindset.
At present, Zero Waste Ha Tinh comprises four mini-projects: 1) Beach clean-up day, 2) Used batteries collection, 3) Milk cartons collection, and 4) Afforestation. Among them, beach clean-up day is considered the most popular and significant one.
Every Sunday morning, a beach clean-up is held with the participation of local people of multiple ages: from children, youths, adults to the elderly. Adults brought children with them to have their kids practice preserving their surroundings. Although participants were supposed to get up at 3.30 a.m. or 4 a.m. to go to the meeting point, which was relatively far away from their home, they still could not bear their excitement and enthusiasm about joining the activity. From July until now, the activity has been maintained weekly except in the case of natural calamities. After three months, the number of participants has grown steadily: from only three people (core-team members) at first to about 30 to 40 people every time.
“A lot of people asked me if this movement was successful, I think yes. The success of this activity does not depend on the number of people approached by Zero Waste Ha Tinh since it cannot be considered as a large number, but depends on the way every single participant feels a strong commitment to the environment after picking up every single plastic scraps,” Ngan said.
Initially, Ngan defined youths as the main target group of the project. However, after a time of operation, Ngan noticed that people of other age groups share the same concern, thus she expanded the target to all. Also, Ngan figured out that it is not the matter of people being not environmentally-aware, it is much more they did not know what to do. Organizing various beach clean-up campaigns allowed Ngan to meet many volunteers who were “even more zealous than us”. They suggested to the team a lot of constructive ideas and donated necessities to carry out activities. According to Ngan, Zero Waste Ha Tinh only provides the locals with a community so they can contribute their efforts to.
Fortunately, the team has never struggled financially since ongoing projects do not require much money and fundings was often provided by benefactors. For instance, the team received the donation in kinds such as sackcloth bags and gloves for beach cleaning activities. “Whenever the team needs help, someone is there to help”, Ngan said. She intended to raise funds only for large-scale projects such as afforestation in the future.
In fact, the team’s current biggest difficulty is the commitment of members. As running projects get strengthened and need more professionalism, it demands members to devote greater time and effort to it. All core-team members are now preoccupied with their own work, so the time available for Zero Waste Ha Tinh has limitations. Moreover, the fact that team members are working remotely causes challenges every now and then. Currently, Ngan has tried to overcome those difficulties by regularly putting spirit into the team.
Furthermore, Ngan shared some forthcoming plans of Zero Waste Ha Tinh. At the time of the interview, she revealed the milk cartons collection project was about to go into operation. Her team had already contacted several primary schools in Ha Tinh province to gather used milk cartons from there. The team will work closely with those schools to clean collected cartons and after that send them to Hanoi, where the cartons will be repurposed as construction materials. With the afforestation project, her team is bent on planting 1,500 trees at Vu Quang national forest in November since last summer, Ha Tinh’s forest underwent a devastating fire.
Last but not least, Ngan advised youths, who are ambitious about establishing social initiatives, to equip themselves with thorough knowledge before starting doing anything. Sometimes, the consequences of lacking knowledge will do harm to what we are trying to protect. For example, the idea of putting used batteries in a plastic bottle, filling it with sand and water and then burying it in the ground was once spread widely in Vietnam as a way to treat hazardous waste. However, the idea was not based on scientific ground and even leads to more severe environmental degradation. Thus, Ngan recommended youths to double-check related information carefully in order to ensure the project is heading in the right direction, from that creating a valuable impact on society.