There’s an old story about two shoe salesmen who are sent to Africa 100 years ago to investigate if there was a market for their product.  The first salesperson returns home and says, “I’ve got terrible news, nobody wears shoes.”  The second salesperson returns home and says, “I’ve got great news, nobody wears shoes!”  The optimism of the second salesperson, is how we feel when we see the plastic situation here in Saigon.  There is so much opportunity to do something about it.

Whether we are driving along the streets of Saigon, or buying a snack at a corner store, there is no denying that plastic is everywhere. Sadly, everywhere includes our soil and oceans. Our overuse of plastic is severely harming the planet and the wildlife that lives in the oceans and on the land. The SALA Environmental Club wants to implement a programme – Beyond Plastic – that tackles this problem head-on and reduces the amount of unnecessary plastic being used by VAS families and hopefully in Saigon.

Copious research concludes that we humans have a perilous relationship with plastic.  Luckily, with education, awareness and policy change we can reduce our reliance on this thin, stretchable and ubiquitous material.

We hope to tackle this problem on many fronts.

Firstly, we want to provide VAS students and parents with a reusable tote bag that can be used when purchasing products in stores around town.  While we will provide the bags free of charge, we will accept donations, which will be used to buy more reusable bags that we will give away to more families at different VAS campuses and hopefully to shoppers outside supermarkets and large stores that use lots of plastic.

Our tote bags will be decorated with the VAS logo on one side and a short but impactful message (in Vietnamese) on the other side.  We haven’t decided on a final slogan, but we are thinking about something like: “One less plastic bag.” “Less plastic = A better Saigon”  “Saigon, start using less plastic today.”

To encourage VAS families to use their tote bags we will create an online competition.  Whenever a student or family uses their bag they can take a photo and send it to us, or post it on Twitter, using the hashtag, ‘#VASbeyondplastic’.  The family or student who has the most posts will win a prize. It is our hope that people will engage in friendly competition when using their bag and also feel an onus to use their bag when they see others using them.  In short, we want this behavior to become the norm.

On top of this, we also want to put together a campaign where we ask large businesses that use a lot of plastic bags in the city to join us in our cause.  We hope to conduct a VAS-wide petition that includes as many signatures as we can, asking local companies (like Family Mart, Circle K, Satra Mart, Big C Supercenter etc.) to implement plastic-bag free policies, provide a donation to us to purchase more reusable totes, and give us permission to distribute these bags outside their store, free of charge, to customers.

We are hoping that these companies will consider policies such as not immediately and instinctively providing customers with a plastic bag for purchases of one or two items, implementing a small tax on plastic bags (between 3000 and 5000 VND) to encourage the use of reusable bags, consider having plastic-bag free days one day a month in their store, and perhaps just increasing awareness of the plastic problem within their stores through posters and campaigns.

It is our hope, that with some funding from the VAS Community Programme and the hard work of the VAS SALA Environment Club we will be able to reverse our dependency on this material and, hopefully, one day, go, Beyond Plastic.