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The Face of Plastic in Viet Nam (Part 2 of 2)

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This slideshow is Part 2 of the slideshow looking at plastic use in Vietnam. It focuses on electronics, large items, and plastic waste in Vietnam. See Part 1 about plastic in food, clothing, and hygiene here. The text of the article below is the same as in Part 1, but the photos and captions are new.

During the summer of 2010, I spent two and half months in Viet Nam, where I conducted field research for my Masterís thesis. I looked at peopleís perceptions of water and the ways in which the waters of the Mekong Delta get polluted. As a developing country that is trying, like many others, to expand economically, the environment often times gets abused. With the growth of commerce and consumerism, materialism is at a high, at the expense of the natural resources found in Viet Nam and elsewhere. I will update this slideshow with my research findings when that time comes.

For now, this slideshow features my observations about plastic usage in Viet Nam, starting with the post below.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The other day, when I was sitting at a vegetarian food stall in a bustling market in Chau Doc, Viet Nam, I started thinking about the "face of plastic" in this developing country. Iíve been based in Viet Nam for almost three weeks now, talking to people about water, agriculture, education, and environmental pollution. I hadn't thought that deeply about plastic, aside from minimizing my use of it while I was here (which has proven to be problematic, since people find it strange when I refuse a bag, and so, usually, they just ignore my request). I had the following conversation once:

Me (in Vietnamese): Don't need bag; no worries.
Vendor: It'll make things look cleaner, for sanitary reasons.
Me: Save it, you can save the money. ::Smiles::
Vendor: It's my bag to give away, my money. You don't worry.
Me: ::Walking away, with my goods, bagged up::

Back to me at the market. As I was surveying the happenings of this market, I became overwhelmed by the ubiquitous presence of plastic, in its various forms, that surrounded me. Practically everyone was interacting with plastic.

Every vendor (from those selling fruits to vegetables to meat to noodles to household goods) had bags of plastic, ready to use for their customers. Every shopper had bags of plastic in their hands. Even the food vendor in front of me was slushing hot noodle soup into a plastic bag, and then putting that plastic bag into another plastic bag.

This scene of my time in the market also features me sitting on a plastic chair, eating at a plastic table, slurping my tea from a plastic straw, while a pile of cheap plastic toys lay in a heap, waiting to get sold at the stall next to me.

The only people who didn't seem to be interacting directly with plastic were those trying to make ends meet by selling lottery tickets.

This slideshow features images and commentary about the face of plastic in Viet Nam. Despite some of the snarkier comments that sound as if theyíre unique to Vietnamese society, please note that plastic is a major environmental issue around the globe -- in both developed countries like the United States and developing countries like Viet Nam.

When plastic cups arenít used, clean, unused Styrofoam food containers are probably available. Just like in other nations, they frequently end up as litter on the ground that pollutes the cities and waterways.
Hungry? Why not sit down at a food stall on plastic chairs at a plastic table! A drink will appear, complete with a plastic straw. Itís very likely that the pre-made food in front of you will be held in plastic containers, and that the woman selling food is busying preparing plastic to-go bags of food.
There is no shortage of plastic toys (wrapped and unwrapped) to be found.
Going home on your motorbike? Donít forget the state-mandate that every person over the age of six must wear a helmet (most likely made from plastic, of course). And with the serious traffic congestion caused by motorbikes on the road, be wary of getting hit by one of these steel and plastic beasts.
Every person in Viet Nam seems to own a cell phone – from a struggling fruit vendor to a wealthy venture capitalist. Itís easy to trade in an old phone for an upgraded, spiffy one. Contract phone plans arenít common here, so everyone is on the pay-as-you-go system, meaning that even a poor teenager in water-buffalo country can probably get his hands on a cheap cell phone. And there are plenty of other electronics to be had as well.
Going out again? Put on some plastic shoes. For little kids, these shoes even squeak when you walk.
What to do with your trash? You can put everything in a plastic bag (they don't recycle), place it outside your house, and it will be picked up by the trash collector. Otherwise, people litter whereever they please (like on the streets).
Even worse, people dump their trash on/near the waterways where it further pollutes the ecosystems.
Some people burn their trash. Burning plastic releases deadly toxins that also happen to wreck havoc on resources we depend on, like air and clean water. The result is more damage to local human and ecological communities.

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