How Viet Nam can reduce marine plastics by 75% in the next decade

Viet Nam plastic pollution

Image: Duong Quoc Binh _ WWF-Viet Nam

Kristin Hughes
Director, Resource Circularity
Van Ngoc Thinh
Country Director, Viet Nam, WWF Viet Nam
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  • Viet Nam generates an estimated over 3.6 million tons of plastic waste every year
  • The country has pledged to reduce the flow of plastics into the ocean by 75%.
  • The Government of Viet Nam has joined forces with the World Economic Forum and WWF-Viet Nam to launch the Viet Nam National Plastic Action Partnership to fight plastic pollution.

Viet Nam is a country brimming with promise and potential. By the end of 2019, it had recorded one of the highest annual GDP growth rates in the world, buoyed by a vibrant and fast-growing tourism industry that attracted millions of international visitors every month. Equipped with a substantial skilled labour force, a progressively favourable environment for cultivating and supporting innovation, and an increasingly visible role in the global economy – not to mention a best-in-class approach to managing the COVID-19 crisis domestically – Viet Nam is emerging as a leader in a number of key areas.

At the same time, Viet Nam is facing a potentially devastating environmental challenge. The nation generates an estimated 3.7 million tons of plastic waste every year, only 10 to 15 percent of which is eventually collected for recycling. A 2019 study estimates that around 730,000 tons of plastic waste leak from Viet Nam into the ocean every year, a challenge that is hardly unique to the country: the Mekong River, which traverses several Southeast Asian nations, has become a major conduit of plastic pollution. Given the skyrocketing usage and disposal of single-use plastic masks and other personal protective equipment throughout the pandemic, we can expect to see these figures grow significantly.

To be clear: plastic pollution is not an issue that fits neatly into one box. Its impact reverberates far beyond the ecosystems and organisms that thrive in our ocean. For countries and communities that depend heavily on the ocean – which contributes up to $1.5 trillion in value to the global economy – plastic pollution is a food security challenge, a humanitarian challenge, and an economic development challenge.

And it’s a challenge can be solved when every one of us – policymakers, business leaders, researchers, scientists, and consumers – step up and embrace our responsibility to safeguard our environment from plastic leakage and speed up the transition to a circular economy.

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Viet Nam is prepared to lead on this issue. The highest legislation frame, the Law of Environment Protection, was revised and approved by the National Assembly on 4 December 2020 with specific provisions on solid waste management in general and plastic waste management in particular. Under Prime Minister’s Decision No. 1746, the country has pledged to meet three major targets by 2030: reduce the flow of plastics into the ocean by 75%; completely eliminate single-use plastics and non-biodegradable plastic bags from coastal destinations; and ensure that marine protected areas are free of plastic waste.

Achieving these goals would mean an absolutely transformative transition for Viet Nam’s marine economy. It would secure the livelihoods of people and communities in the fishing and tourism industries. It would catalyse investment into innovation and capacity-building at all points of the value chain: reduction, substitution, reuse, recycling, and safe disposal. It would restore Viet Nam’s pristine beaches and islands and create a foundation for sustainable waste management practices, particularly as tourism rebounds in the post-COVID-19 recovery.

And it would show other countries how to put an ambitious agenda into practice with concrete results – just as Viet Nam has demonstrated to the world its leadership on managing COVID-19.

That’s why we are delighted to announce that the Government of Viet Nam – spearheaded by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment – has today joined forces with the World Economic Forum and WWF-Viet Nam to launch the Viet Nam National Plastic Action Partnership, a locally-led, locally-driven national platform that will bring together the most committed and influential stakeholders in Viet Nam to address the fragmented landscape of regulation and complement existing voluntary measures, and create a joint approach to tackling plastic pollution.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

Of course, there is already a large number of successful and inspiring initiatives working on the ground across Viet Nam to address this issue. Rather than duplicating efforts and stealing spotlights, this partnership will seek to unite and uplift them. It will serve as a neutral, inclusive convening place for sharing knowledge, amplifying diverse voices and stories through the World Economic Forum’s platforms, and discovering new ways of working together.

We’re honoured that many of these partners have already joined us in building this partnership from the ground up. WWF-Viet Nam, for one, has been a pillar in the Viet Nam plastic action community, leading initiatives in cities and islands, including the Mitigating Marine Plastic Debris in Viet Nam project. In collaboration with the Vietnam Administration of Seas and Islands, the project will address national-level priorities in both the policy sphere and in public awareness and behaviour change.

A collaboration among UNDP Viet Nam, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Government of Viet Nam has enabled community awareness campaigns to improve waste collection, segregation and recycling rates at the local level. Non-profit organization GreenHub, with the support of the Coca-Cola Foundation, is building Plastic Action Networks in major cities that focus on supporting informal sector waste pickers, especially women. And the social enterprise Green Points is working to promote sustainable behaviours and attitudes regarding plastic waste in local communities via an application that utilizes gamification to encourages people to sort plastic waste in their households, deposit plastic waste at a station, participate in waste collection, and also participate in sorting plastic waste at the community level.

Image: WWF-Viet Nam

In addition to supporting these and many more partners (more than 80, in fact!) through our partnership, we are preparing to deliver value on several key fronts in 2021. Paramount among our priorities will be the release of a pragmatic, solutions-focused and broadly endorsed national action roadmap for achieving Viet Nam’s plastic waste and pollution targets.

To help put our recommendations into action, we will also assemble five national Task Forces to move progress forward in the areas of policy; metrics; innovation; financing; and communication and education. At the same time, we will work with local experts to ensure that a gender-responsive strategy is embedded at the core of not only our operations but that of our community – so that the needs and perspectives of women, girls and marginalized communities will always come first.

We’re standing at a critical moment for change. As we prepare to turn the page on 2020 and embark on a journey of hope, optimism, and urgently needed change in 2021, we are looking to Viet Nam – long known for its history of determination and resilience – to author a story of positive change and bold transformation in this new year. If you’d like to take part in this story, please join us. We are eager to work together to turn the tide of plastic pollution in Viet Nam.

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