With an estimated 45 million motorbikes pumping pollutants out, and unnecessary packing for any and every item, Vietnam isn’t exactly a forerunner when it comes to being eco-friendly. Being eco-friendly in Vietnam can be challenging and needs conscious effort, but I hope that this guide inspires you to make some habitual changes to help you to live a more eco-friendly life and reduce your single-use plastic consumption.
1️⃣ Switch to reusable straws
One of the easiest ways to be more eco-friendly in Vietnam is to cut out unnecessary straws. Saying no to straws when you don’t need one, and carrying a reusable straw is such a simple habit to put in place. Practice the phrase “xin đừng cho tôi một ống hút nhựa” to say “please do not give me a plastic straw”.
Stores are popping up all over Vietnam where you can purchase reusable straws. I recommend getting a little bag to keep the straws in, as well as a cleaning tube. These are some of my favourite eco-stores in Saigon that stock straws:
2️⃣ Use a refillable water bottle
Tap water is not safe for drinking in Vietnam, 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 in Vietnam as most businesses, schools and cafes have water tanks you can fill up from. I recommend getting a water-dispersed for your accommodation (you can even buy them on Lazada) and arranging for a water distributer like La Vie to deliver the 20l bottles to you (your landlord can help you set this up). Now you can just refill your water bottle!
Using a thermos water bottle is a great idea for keeping your water cold all day (important in the Vietnamese heat). The Lock and Lock thermal bottles are a great choice, and I’ve heard good things about the Ecolution Vietnam bottles. I also love my reusable thermos cup from The Craft House, for getting takeaway drinks.
3️⃣ Switch to a menstrual cup
Switching feminine hygiene products can reduce plastic consumption a lot. From what I’ve seen, none of the tampons or pads available in Vietnam is biodegradable. The most eco-friendly option is switching to a reusable menstrual cup. Lintimate, a Vietnamese brand sell a US-made and approved menstrual cup called the Lincup.
4️⃣ Opt to sit-in instead of take-away
There is a huge culture of takeaway food and drinks in Vietnam, whether street food or deliveries. This mostly comes down to convenience, but you can easily switch to a more eco-friendly approach by carrying reusable containers for when you get streetfood-to-go and trying to replace home deliveries with cooking at home. Here are some places you can get reusable containers:
5️⃣ Carry a tote bag
Carrying a tote bag for shopping is one of the easiest ways to cut down plastic consumption. My favourite place to buy tote bags is The E.Y.E Saigon, where you can custom-designed a unique tote. You can find mesh bags for groceries at Laiday Refill Station or A Little Bit.
6️⃣ Shop at the market instead of supermarkets
Okay, you’re in Vietnam: what easier way to cut down on unnecessary plastic than to buy fresh veggies at the market. Instead of buying groceries in the supermarket where everything is put into plastic bags, opt for shopping at the market with a tote bag. By shopping at the market, all fresh produce can be kept loose without stickers or plastic bags (assuming you bring your tote). PLUS you are supporting local business!
📍Every neighbourhood has a market – search chợ on GoogleMaps to find one nearby.
7️⃣ Take buses and trains instead of flying
When travelling in Vietnam, try to limit flying and take the bus or train instead. Of course, this is not feasible if you are travelling long distances, but most shorter distances are serviced with buses. If you are flying to save time, consider taking an overnight bus instead. I always search for buses and trains between locations using Baolau*, a search engine for booking transport in Vietnam.
8️⃣ Use the butt hose and reduce toilet paper use
Sewage systems in Vietnam are not as robust as those in the west which makes pipes prone to clogging, so toilet paper always goes in the trash. Every bathroom in Vietnam comes with a hose next to the toilet to clean after the bathroom and eliminate/reduce the need for toilet paper. Switching to this method is not only cleaner for you but is also more eco-friendly, reducing paper waste.
✍️ New to the butt hose? This guide has you sorted on how to use it.
9️⃣ Avoid using wet wipes in restaurants
Often restaurants in Vietnam offer wet wipe packets to clean your hands. 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 wash your hands properly in the bathroom instead. This is a very small and easy habit to change on the path to being more eco-friendly in Vietnam.
🔟 Use reusable pollution masks
One of the curses of living in a Vietnamese city is high levels of air pollution from motorbikes. Single-use surgical masks are the norm. For one, they are not protecting your health as they don’t filter any of the pollutants out, but secondly, they’re not made of recyclable materials and get trashed after a couple of uses.
One alternative is to get a mask that you can wash and reuse. Masqd makes really great breathable masks that can be washed, and they do pick up and recycling of old masks. Another commonly used brand is AQ Blue, which has filters to protect you from pollution (each mask also lasts for 30 hr drive time) but cannot be washed and reused.
Where to buy eco-friendly items in Saigon
I’ve already mentioned a number of my favourite stores to buy eco-friendly items in Saigon, but this post details more eco-friendly brands in Saigon that are producing only eco-conscious products that are also beautifully designed.