Saigon, in line with the rest of Vietnam, is not great when it comes to being eco-friendly. Particularly with regards to plastic consumption: Vietnam is king at unnecessary plastic usage – be it bagging chewing gum (really?), wrapping bananas in cling-wrap (you know the peel is already protecting it right?) or serving drinks in takeaway cups even when you’re sitting in… (cup, lid, straw and carry sling, the whole lot). As someone who is trying to be more conscious of plastic consumption it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. BUT it will be worth it to save our little planet! So, here is a Zero Waste Guide to help push you up the hill towards a more eco-friendly life in Saigon by reducing your single-use plastic!
Personal disclaimer: Being Zero Waste in Vietnam is incredibly challenging. I am far far far from it, but I’m trying to do my bit..and I hope this guide inspires you to make some habitual changes. I’m going try to use it for my own accountability!
Before we dive in, I want to give a big shout out to Zero Waste Saigon (ZWS) who have started a big movement among the community here in Saigon to tackle excessive plastic waste head-on! If you’re not already part of the Facebook group you can join here. It’s full of people sharing tips and places selling zero waste items like beeswax food wraps and bamboo toothbrushes/straws etc.
I was lucky to attend ZWS’s first award ceremony for businesses that have implemented steps taking them closer to zero waste. The Princess Saigon Fine Dining Cruise Ship was the first to receive Zero Waste awards; they were awarded zero plastic bottles, zero plastic straws and the food waste management medals. You can read more about the different medals available on the Zero Waste Saigon page.
10 easy ways to be more eco-friendly in Vietnam
1. Switch to reusable straws
This is a great first habit to tackle on your road to being more eco-friendly! Straws are an unnecessary evil, and thankfully the world is starting to see this! Saying no to straws when you don’t need one, and carrying your own reusable straw is such a simple habit to put in place, while also significantly reducing your single use plastic consumption!
Go further and question your favourite bars, cafes and restaurants – ask them to stop giving straws unless asked for one and encourage them to look into reusable alternatives!
Where to buy reusable straws in Ho Chi Minh City:
These are the retailers that I know of selling a variety of reusable straws in Saigon, if you know of more please message me or add them in the comments!
- Zero Waste Saigon – bamboo, metal, glass and cleaners
- Green Around the Corner in D2 – bamboo, glass and metal straws in a whole range of sizes. They also sell pouches to store them and cleaners.
- The Organik House in D1 – bamboo, glass and metal straws and cleaners for them
- Saigon Artisan, D1 – packs of 10 bamboo straws (didn’t see cleaners included)
- Mekong Quilts, D1 – packs of 10 bamboo straws with cleaner included
- Soma Art Cafe, D2 – individual bamboo straws
2. Use a water bottle and refill it instead of buying new
The water in Vietnam is not safe for drinking out of the tap, which of course means we must rely on bottled water. However, that doesn’t mean you have to buy single use plastic bottles! Making a conscious effort to refill a bottle doesn’t take much effort.
First step to making it easy to refill your water bottle it to get a water dispenser in your accommodation (most already come with one!) These big bottles of water are collected and refilled by distributors like La Vie. While out and about use dispersers you see to refill your bottles. I’ve noticed cafes around D1 and D2 starting to use dispensers, and nearly every business and school uses them so there’s no excuse when you’re at work!
Using a metal water bottle is a great idea, as it will help to keep the contents cold/hot for a long time, which is important in the Vietnamese heat! I’ve just got one of the Lock and Lock thermal bottles and it’s great at maintaining the temperature!
3. For the ladies: Switch to a menstrual cup
This one is obviously for all the gals reading. I know its not for everyone, but changing your feminine hygiene products will reduce your plastic consumption a lot. The selection of tampons and pads that are available in Vietnam are not biodegradable (at least none that I have been able to find).
4. Sit in to eat and drink instead of taking away
Living in Saigon, there is such a big culture of takeaway food, whether it’s getting things delivered through apps like Vietnammm and Foodie, or simply taking your local street food home instead of sitting out to eat it. It isn’t just food, but also drinks. So many people grab their coffee from their local street vendor, which is amazing for local economy but it can add unnecessary plastic containers.
The habit of ordering in mostly comes from laziness, so first of all try to make the effort to eat out more or cook at home. If you regularly get street food to take-away, considering purchasing reusable containers you can have your meals put into. If you regularly get drinks to-go you should also consider getting a takeaway cup!
Where to buy takeaway containers in Ho Chi Minh City:
5. Carry a tote bag for shopping – refuse plastic bags
This is another super super easy step you can take that will cut down your plastic consumption significantly. Instead of accepting plastic bags everywhere carry your own reusable bag! If you do get a plastic bag, be sure to reuse it and if possible say no to bags in general (often we don’t actually need them).
Where to buy tote bags in Ho Chi Minh City:
6. Shop at the market instead of supermarkets – fresh produce doesn’t need bags or labels
Okay, you’re in Vietnam: there is no excuse for not buying your fresh veggies at the market. And my hands are up as I am guilty of buying groceries in Big C because it’s convenient when I’m buying the rest of my shopping.
Each Ward has its own market, so you are guaranteed to have a fresh produce market within walking distance of your home. Instead of buying groceries in the supermarket where everything is put into a plastic bag and stickered, opt for shopping at the market with your own tote bag. All your produce can be kept loose so no plastic bags and no stickers! PLUS you are supporting local business!
If you still want to bag your veggies up separately you can find reusable produce bags in the Zero Waste Saigon shop.
7. Use a fabric drink sling for cups when driving
Cut out some of the excess plastic with your take away drink! Refuse the plastic sling and use the holder on your bike, or if your bike doesn’t come with a drinks holder like mine you can invest in a cute little cotton sling to reuse.
Where to buy drink slings in Ho Chi Minh City:
8. Use the butt hose and reduce toilet paper use
This is another easy habit to change! The pipe systems in Vietnam are prone to clogging, so toilet paper always goes in the trash can. Most locals use the hose next to the toilet to clean themselves after the bathroom, and eliminate the need for toilet paper (or significantly reduce how much). Switching to this method is not only cleaner for you but also helps use less paper!
New to the butt hose? Check out this how to guide
9. Avoid using the wet wipes in restaurants
Often if you go to restaurants you’ll be given a little packet with a wet wipe to clean your hands with. As well as being wrapped in plastic, the actual wet tissue within is not biodegradable (to the best of my knowledge). Refuse the wet wipe and head to the bathroom to wash your hands if possible instead. It’s not a big habit to change, nor difficult to implement, but every little helps.
10. Invest in reusable pollution masks
One of the curses of living in one of Vietnam’s dynamic cities is the unfortunate pollution. Most people wear cheap surgical masks which get disposed of after a few hours of drive time. For one, they are not protecting your health as they don’t filter any of the pollution out, but secondly they’re not made of recyclable materials.
One option is to get yourself a cotton mask that you can wash and reuse, though they also don’t protect your health from the pollution. My personal recommendation is to get yourself some AQ blue masks which have pollution filters to protect your health and each mask also lasts for 30 hours of drive time which is much much more than the surgical masks.
Being Zero Waste in Vietnam is not easy, and I don’t think it’s my ultimate goal. BUT I do want to do my part in reducing our plastic consumption! Hopefully the guide helps you to be a bit more eco-conscious.
Do you have any more tips for being eco friendly in Vietnam? Please share them in the comments!
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For more on living in Vietnam:
- The Pros and Cons of Living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- Getting a Work Permit in Vietnam
- Learning to Ride a Motorbike in Vietnam