It’s November. So, to launch our campaign to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics, #noplasticvember, we reached out to three inspirational Saigon women who are each responding to the climate crisis in their own creative and entrepreneurial ways.
Read on in Vietnamese
Globally, we’re producing well over 300 million tonnes of plastic per year. And each year, plastic bags kill over 100,000 marine animals. The numbers go on and on. And they’re shocking. And Vietnam is implicated. We rank 17th in the world for plastic released, and 4th globally for plastic waste released into the ocean. However, with our country’s bright economic prospects comes an increased eco-consciousness. Groups like Generation Eco Vietnam are spreading the word with innovative clean-up campaigns. And stores like Saigon’s Organik House are providing refill stations and reusable items.
November seems a good time to rethink things. This is Rethink Plastic Vietnam’s awareness-raising month too. You can enter their online plastic diet challenge or join their community clean up day by heading to their Facebook page.
And so it’s also a good time to launch our #noplasticvember initiative, where we’re stopping buying and consuming products that employ single-use plastic.
We touched base with three people engaged in the drive for more sustainable living. Susanne Meletzki runs Green Around The Corner. “I describe us as a concept store that focuses on mindful living,” she smiles. Le Thuy Linh runs AYA Cup, a company that lends reusable cups for takeaway beverages. And Linh’s ambitious. “Our goal to eliminate the use of 1 million disposable plastic cups,” she tells us. And finally, Dinh Nguyen Kieu My is creative director of TheBlueTshirt. “I also teach a fashion-design class at Ho Chi Minh University of Architecture on the topic of Sustainable Fashion,” Dinh Nguyen Kieu My adds.
Susanne Meletzki Is The Founder Of Green Around The Corner
It’s very tranquil in the courtyard of Snap Cafe in District 2 which suits softly spoken Susanne Meletzki. As owner of Green Around The Corner she’s been promoting eco-products for a couple of years now. In fact, Green Around The Corner was originally a plant-based cafe with a retail section. “We opened in January 2018 and that was the real Green Around the Corner,” she remembers warmly. Now the cafe is no more. But the move to Snap saved the store.
Susanne Meletzki is quick to remind us that simply reducing the use of plastic won’t solve everything. “Being eco to me is not only about plastic,” she reminds us. “It’s about keeping our ecosystem intact while preserving traditional crafts with a modern interpretation, timeless designs, and more…”
And she’s full of admiration for other women who are doing their bit for the cause. “Two eco-heroines stand out,” she smiles, “Trang Nguyen who just made it on BBC’s list of the 100 most inspiring women in the world. Just watch her TedxHanoi talk called ‘Last of the Wild’ to understand why,” Susanne nods. “And my second eco hero is Thao Vu the founder of Kilomet109. Why? Because she is sustainable the whole way from the natural fibre to the finished natural dyed material…”
We follow Susanne round the store admiring the Saigon Suds activated charcoal, Argan oil and aloe vera soap, Blue Moon Handmade’s natural deodorants and lotions, and cool, Japanese-style Pilgrim’s handmade limited edition products.
We wonder how Susanne Meletzki manages to maintain a sustainable lifestyle every day. “When there’s a will, there’s a way,” she shoots back. “But I suggest taking simple steps. Do things like buy your products in wet markets and take your own bag and containers,” she advises.
And despite all the doom around the environment and the climate crisis at the moment, Susanne is quietly optimistic. “Lots of initiatives have started in the last few years from clean ups to refill stores. It’s very encouraging to see young people leading the way and taking action…” she smiles hopefully.
Dinh Nguyen Kieu My Is Creative Director At TheBlueTshirt
Dinh Nguyen Kieu My is positive about progress too…with some reservations. “There’s definitely an eco-green movement starting here in Saigon – and in other cities in Vietnam. People are being encouraged to live more consciously.” But she worries about “the other 99% of the population”.
TheBlueTshirt have been playing their part too by building sustainably. “We’re a local brand, which means we can respond to customer demands rather than producing a huge amount of goods in advance,” Dinh Nguyen Kieu My explains. Plus the company uses 65% factory excess and rescued fabrics, “the stuff that usually ends up in landfills”.
But, she feels, everyone needs to play their part. “We need to act en masse in order to minimize waste, energy use and plastic before it is too, too late (because it is already late),” she warns. Practically, she’s been doing her bit for a while now. “I always keep reusable shopping bags with me and empty food containers in my bike’s underseat compartment. It’s stuffy but it’s actually my green sanctum,” she laughs. Her backpack is her other green sanctum. “I also keep a metal straw and my water bottle in my there. I have never left my house without my water bottle since middle school…” she adds proudly. In fact, Dinh Nguyen Kieu My wishes we could return to a time when sticky rice was wrapped in banana leaves, steamed sardines were handled in wicker and everyone carried their own grocery baskets…”
And she’s been spreading the idea by word of mouth. “I would talk to my lunch lady, my fruit guy or anyone who is making an honest living on the street about the tremendous harm of single use plastic. I believe this word of mouth method is as effective as it was to religions starting out way back in time…”
Besides being an inspiration to others, Dinh Nguyen Kieu My has her own eco-heroines too. “Like Ms. Hang Mai, the founder of Xanhshop,” Dinh Nguyen Kieu My smiles. “She is the pioneer of a natural way of farming that avoids the use of chemicals while promoting fair trade and ethical agricultural products.” And, she remembers to add, “any plastic collecting ladies even though they do what they do to make ends meet. They are doing us a favor…”
Le Thuy Linh Is The Founder Of AYA Cup
“I guess I like to attempt the impossible,” Linh laughs. She’s doing just that with AYA by attempting to change consumption habits in Vietnam. One cup at a time. “I still remember the day. I found myself suddenly full of guilt. My personal plastic use was drowning me everyday. Every coffee I ordered. Every meal I had delivered. Right at that moment I made a resolution. I’d stop complaining to my friends and start working on a solution.”
AYA, founded in late 2018, has already evolved. The company started out by providing biodegradable packaging for coffee shops and restaurants. “But we quickly discovered that the price point was too high for middle- and lower-end shops. So, I asked myself if there is a different way…”
Inspired by the circular economy “where things are produced once but have a thousand lifescycles before ending up at recycling facilities” since April the company became AYA Cup, a cup lending network for takeaways and home delivery. She quickly breaks down the concept for us: “So, with a 50,000 VND deposit at a coffee shop you get to take the cup and you get a 100% refund when you bring it back to any location within our network.”
Like Susanne Meletzki and Dinh Nguyen Kieu My, Linh is positive about current changes in our lives, with reservations. “The awareness is here in Vietnam now, but a deeper understanding is the next stage,” she says. She’s also been noticing some brands hopping on the bandwagon and “green-washing” their company’s credentials. And, she adds, “to truly disrupt plastic pollution, consumers, businesses and governments need to design new ways for us to systematically consume, behave, and form new habits…”
But overall she’s proud of the momentum the movement has gathered. “I’m very proud of Saigonese (and Vietnamese in general) as we are bright, brave and willing to change,” she nods. The founder of the NGO ChangeVN, Hong Hoang, is a good example. “I haven’t had the chance to talk to her in person,” Linh says sadly, “but I’ve been following her work closely.” As we prepare to leave with an AYA Cup ready for #noplasticvember she adds a final point: “Most strongly of all, I feel that anyone who takes action instead of sitting around complaining is a hero….”
Photos by Nam Tran Duy and Khooa Nguyen.