How this expat couple is tackling waste management in Saigon

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Published 4 weeks ago

Julie and Michael have been in Saigon for two years. In two years, they have created Zero Waste Saigon and are working hard to try and reduce waste production in the city.

Tell us a little about you two.

I am an American from California and my wife is French. We had been traveling the world together for 4 years and when our three year old turned 3, we decided we would move to a new country every year until he turned 5.

In August 2017, we moved to Vietnam and fell in love with the country. It is a very exciting time to be in Saigon. The city is changing and upgrading rapidly, it is full of young people with exciting ideas.

But there was one big problem, the plastic that is thrown away everywhere. You can see it on the streets and in the river and waterways all over the city. We decided we could not sit by and do nothing.

When and why did you move to Vietnam?

We first came to Vietnam on a vacation while we were living in Thailand. We instantly liked the country and made some friends who said if we moved to Saigon they would help us settle. So we did!

What exactly is Zero Waste Saigon?

We started Zero Waste Saigon as a Facebook community that shared ways to reduce our waste. It grew quickly in popularity and many solutions to the waste problems were shared and developed between people in this group.

We identified the major causes and started developing solutions to the problems and partnered with the people necessary to make the changes happen.

Now Zero Waste Saigon educates children, consults with businesses to reduce their waste, sells sustainable alternatives in our online shop, launch public awareness campaigns and helps develop new sustainable alternative products.

How did you come up with the idea of Zero Waste Saigon?

It was Julia. She was upset enough about the problem to start researching about it globally but she could not find much info about it locally. So she started the Facebook group to try and learn more. She was not intending it to be an organization she just wanted to connect people but people kept looking to her for leadership. I came on board because she needed help making a website and then she needed help with more and more things so I decided to jump in with her as I saw the potential for a large impact.

How has the idea evolved into what it is today after that?

It has evolved because we have stuck to our simple mission which is to reduce waste as much as possible. This means that we are constantly evolving our strategy based on what we are able to have an impact on at that moment. We have had to kill certain projects because we were having a larger impact in other areas. This is an ongoing process.

What was the response of the local community at the launching of ZW Saigon?

At first, we were only being able to reach expats. We also did not speak any Vietnamese but quickly Vietnamese people started joining the group and putting us in contact with other Vietnamese people who could help. We found our allies and partners. We have had so many people talk to us with gratitude and love for their country. They get it and will keep the change growing.

Of course there is still a lot to do and while the impact has been big and is growing there is still a lot of people who do not care enough to change their habits.  But Zero Waste has become trendy here and I think we are just in the beginning of the trend.

What impact did the initiative have on the problem that you had once identified?

We have helped over 3,000 people obtain sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic, we supply over 100 businesses around Vietnam with alternatives. We have taught over 1,000 students in schools around Saigon.  We have spawned cottage industries of grass straws, rice straws, coffee holders and bamboo straws.

We have been featured on 5 national tv channels and over 100 articles have been written about us. Our #Strawpocalypse campaign went viral with over 3 million views and was featured on National Geographic, Huffington Post and Greenpeace.

Do you have any further projects for ZW Saigon?

We want to expand our education program. We are also working on strategies for large businesses in Vietnam to reduce their waste. We are always looking to partner with people on creative ways to inspire people to make positive changes.