Stories of Change

Bien with some of the completed eco-bricks.

A business owner helps reduce plastic bag use in her community in Vietnam

“Using plastic bags is so convenient!”

“Everyone uses plastic, so if I change, it’s nothing.”

“Why would I stop using plastic bags?”

These and many similar comments are ones that my colleague Dung and I usually receive when we ask people’s opinions about reducing their use of single use plastics, especially plastic bags.

The convenience of using plastics bags and other plastics is spreading from cities and towns to remote villages in Vietnam’s rural areas, where CWS works. Plastic bags are everywhere. And, once they are used – one time only – they are discarded on village roads and walking paths, in mountain streams and in farming fields. Or, worse, people burn them without knowing how dangerous burning plastic is for everyone’s health and the environment.

This is why CWS has started working with families and communities to learn better waste management, with particular focus on ending the use of one-time use plastics, especially bags. So far, our star pupil, so to say, is from Nam Sang village. Lo Thi Bien is a successful shop owner. Bien sells a lot of candy, bottled water and soft drinks that, unfortunately, generate a lot of plastic waste.

Until now, Bien has gathered up the waste her customers leave behind and burned it in her yard. And, until she joined our information-sharing session recently, she had no idea her fire created dioxin, which can cause respiratory disease and even cancer.

But she knows now, and she is changing her ways.

Immediately, Bien said she would stop burning plastic waste. And, from another thing she learned from the CWS team, she says, “I’m now very interested in making eco-bricks from plastic waste. It’s quite simple and easy. I will gather plastic bottles and bags, and candy and food wrappers, to make bricks at my home first. I will then teach and encourage others. When we have many bricks, we will use them to make benches and fences for our community culture house.” Bien also told us that she I will now use banana leaves to wrap foods for customers when she can – just as her grandparents did. And, in making her corner of the village safer for people’s health, she will save money in the bargain by not buying plastic bags!

This story was written by Nguyen Van Ty, CWS Vietnam Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Officer.