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Vietnam Does Its Part In Cleaning the Environment, Cleans Plastic

With the waste already blanketing the streets and seas, and with the cost of alternatives still pricey, plastic can seem like a mountain of a problem.

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Plastic, Vietnam
A woman removes plastic waste stuck in tree branches near the beach in Thanh Hoa province, Vietnam. VOA
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For many Vietnamese people, it is a ritual as circadian as the sunrise: On the way to work, they pull over their motorbikes to grab an iced coffee from a street vendor, complete with a plastic cup, plastic lid, plastic straw, and plastic case to hang from the bikes as they drive.

The coffee, with four separate pieces of plastic for a single drink, exemplifies how this packaging has became such a common and wasteful scourge on Vietnam’s environment. But some citizens have become alarmed by the trend and begun fighting back against the pollution.

More Vietnamese than ever are looking for alternatives to plastic, from metal bottles to cloth tote bags, just as many communities around the world are starting to believe they have relied for too long on cheap and versatile — but ecologically disastrous — plastic. Rwanda was remarkably efficient at banning plastic bags, while Durham, North Carolina has a volunteer program to distribute reusable takeout containers, and an Amsterdam grocer introduced an aisle of products with no plastic.

 

plastic, vietnam
A plastic bottle washed up by the sea . (VOA)

 

What makes Vietnam special, to the chagrin of environmentalists, is that it ranks among the top five countries in the world that send plastic trash into the ocean, according to the Ocean Conservancy. To have become a top polluter is staggering for the Southeast Asian nation, especially when there are dozens of countries with much larger economies but far less plastic waste.

“Everyone, every country should be responsible, it doesn’t matter the size,” said Tran An, a volunteer at Precious Plastic Saigon. “In Vietnam we should do what we can to solve the plastic problem.”

Her green advocacy group has taught Vietnamese how to make their own straws out of bamboo, as well as how to distinguish between different kinds of plastic to facilitate recycling.

Locals are getting creative with the ways they are cutting plastic out of their daily diets. It seems each week another restaurant in Vietnam is switching to paper straws, while supermarkets have started giving shoppers cardboard boxes in which to take home their groceries, similar to Costco in the United States.

plastic, vietnam
A man collects plastic and other recyclable material from the shores. (VOA)

Plastic water bottles are a popular target. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has swapped them out in favor of metal bottles at meetings. One business chamber is encouraging members to replace them at the office, providing water coolers for employees instead. A coalition of foreign consulates in Ho Chi Minh City signed a pledge this year to do the same. And at conferences, one hotel puts out glasses that guests can refill from dispensers.

“One of my favorite examples is that, you know, the youngsters in Vietnam, we are so gaga over bubble tea. And all that is plastic,” An said. “But now if you go to those shops you will see that they started getting the carriers made by canvas, or something else instead of a plastic carrier.”

The carriers are similar to those used by motorbike drivers to transport their iced coffee. Straws and carriers are small change, though, compared to the macroeconomic change needed to cut down on plastic, which will take up more space in the ocean than do fish, if nothing is done, by 2050, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The “industries responsible for the major plastic wastes must be targeted with specific industry agreements and producer liability arrangements, with requirements for handling, collection and reuse of waste and broken plastic equipment,” Nina Jensen, CEO of the environmental group REV Ocean, wrote in a blog post.

plastic, vietnam
An environmentalist checks the quality of the water near dead fishes along the Ngoc Khanh lake in Hanoi . VOA

Vu Thinh, who works at a trading company in Ho Chi Minh City, thinks the growing interest in eco-friendly consumption could be good for business.

“One of my special products is to make a plastic bag, so I think this is interesting, this topic, because in the next year we will produce this product,” he said.

His bags would be made of potato starch and other natural ingredients that can decompose within two years, unlike plastic, one of the least biodegradable materials.

But this would cost more than single-use plastic bags, demonstrating the difficulty of finding a new business model for companies that depend on plastic.

“Of course we want to export to Europe or America because this is more expensive,” Thinh said. “You know in Vietnam now [we] have some companies produce that product but it is not good, the market is not good, the price is high. We will research the market more.”

Also Read: Sea Turtles Suffer Majorly Due To Plastic Traps

With the waste already blanketing the streets and seas, and with the cost of alternatives still pricey, plastic can seem like a mountain of a problem. But An said she has reason to be optimistic because the next generation is more idealistic.

Older Vietnamese think, “why go an extra step for something if it won’t make a difference?” she said. “But for the youngsters I think they feel that one action counts anyway.” (VOA)

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Climate Change Left Its Fingerprint On The Most Extreme Disasters in 2017

The science is progressing to the point where ignoring it could cause legal problems

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Climate change
A Feb. 11, 2017, aerial photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows a damaged spillway with an eroded hillside in Oroville, California. VOA

Drought in the United States and East Africa. Floods in Peru and Bangladesh. Heatwaves in Europe and China. Even unusual cloudiness in Japan. Climate change left its fingerprints on some of the biggest climate extremes of 2017, according to a new assessment.

The report highlights how a changing climate has real-life implications for the professionals who have to deal with the consequences. Case in point: water managers faced with record-breaking rainfall that overwhelmed a faltering dam in California.

“This is not a problem for the future. It’s a problem for today,” said Penn State University climate scientist David Titley, who was not involved with the research.

Seventeen studies from 10 countries make up the report, which the American Meteorological Society has been publishing annually since 2011.

They tease apart the factors that led to each extreme event and estimate the extent to which climate change contributed.

Drought, Climate Change
In this July 26, 2017, photo, soybeans grow in a farm field near Indianola, Iowa. Drought conditions are getting worse in several states, and extreme heat and weeks with little rain have begun to stress corn, soybeans, wheat and livestock. VOA

For example, drought parched the U.S. Northern Great Plains in the summer of 2017, drying up farms and ranches, sparking wildfires and racking up more than $2 billion in damage.

The study found that climate change did not affect the amount of rain that fell over the region.

However, higher temperatures brought on by global warming meant that soil dried out quicker. That means a drought of this severity is 1.5 times more likely than it would have been without climate change, the report said.

The report was released at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C. It comes as U.N. climate negotiators are meeting in Poland.

At that meeting, U.S., Russian and Saudi negotiators aimed to downplay a dire report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the impacts of global warming.

The new study’s findings confirm what the IPCC first predicted nearly 30 years ago, said study editor Martin Hoerling, a climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Climate Change, hurricane michael, Storms
In this photograph released by the Sri Lankan Air Force media division on May 29, 2017, flooding is seen in the country’s Matara district. VOA

According to the group’s first report, the impacts seen today are “the type of change in weather and climate that we would experience if we continued on a trajectory of increasing carbon dioxide,” Hoerling said. “We have certainly done so, and the consequences are unfolding.”

In Oroville, California, last February, the consequences of climate change provided a case study in the challenges of managing critical infrastructure in the face of a changing climate.

A series of torrential rains overfilled the lake behind the Oroville Dam. Because of a damaged spillway, overflowing water threatened to destroy the dam. Nearly 200,000 people downstream were evacuated.

The reservoir was already full when the storm that nearly broke the dam hit. One major reason, the report notes, was the unusual warmth at the end of the previous year. Storms that would normally have fallen as snow instead fell as rain.

Other California dams handled the deluge without incident, however, noted study co-author and hydrologist Julie Vano at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. It was the combination of climate change-driven extreme weather and the damaged spillway that made Oroville a near-disaster.

Fire, CLimate Change, California
Firefighters battle a wildfire as it threatens to jump a street near Oroville, California. VOA

“With aging infrastructure and more development happening in places where there’s risk exposure, we really need to think about how we manage our systems,” she said.

The science is progressing to the point where ignoring it could cause legal problems, according to attorney Lindene Patton with the Earth & Water Law Group.

Drought in the United States and East Africa. Floods in Peru and Bangladesh. Heatwaves in Europe and China. Even unusual cloudiness in Japan.

For example, she said, take the owner of a hypothetical chemical plant located near a river.

Engineers typically design safety features based on historical rainfall patterns. “If your calculations are done assuming 1970s rainfall events,” Patton said, “then your design would not be prepared for today’s climate.”

Also Read: As Climate Talks Come to a Halt, Africa Suffers From Global Warming

When climate science can show that rainfall patterns have changed, she added, “if you don’t use that different set of rainfall tables and a chemical release occurs, then you may find a claim is made against you.” (VOA)