Phu Quoc, a Vietnamese island off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand, joined WWF’s Plastic Smart Cities initiative in 2019, and is now implementing pilot projects with the goal of reducing plastic pollution by 30% in their pilot areas. One such pilot is in Da Chong, a small village of 1,485 people located in the northeastern part of the island next to a marine protected area, and a testing ground for a new community-based approach to waste management.
Like other remote areas on the island and across Southeast Asia, Da Chong residents did not have access to public waste collection. Waste generated by the community was either burned or thrown directly into the ocean, and thus a direct threat to the highly protected seagrass area.
WWF-Vietnam, together with local authorities hatched a pilot project that established a community-based waste management system, one that could prevent the community’s waste from polluting the coastal environment, an environment that not only supports the livelihoods of many Da Chong residents, from fishing to aquaculture, but also harbors many marine species, including the rare and vulnerable dugongs.
The goal of the project was to establish a system in which solid waste would be segregated at the household level, valuable items would be utilized on-site, organic waste would be composted and trash would be collected and transported to a treatment site by a public collection service.
An agreement was reached between the local authorities and the community members of Da Chong, leading to the launch of the first community-based waste management program in the region, in September 2019. The project provided equipment, waste separation training, and technical support to the residents, equipping them with the resources to not only establish the program, but to also run the program independently.
The community selected Ms. Co Bay, a low income waste picker, to be their community waste collector. Ms. Bay collects inorganic waste door to door twice a week, and advocates for waste separation and onsite organic waste treatment. Since the pilot started, she has gained stable income from waste collection fees and from recyclables collected from participating households. Together with Ms. Bay, another local female has also been employed to monitor and audit the local waste stream.
Public awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution to the ocean environment is now at an all time high in Da Chong, with residents even participating in beach cleanup events. The old habit of throwing trash into the ocean is quickly fading.
It’s still yet early stages for this community-based pilot, but many lessons are being learned on the ground, which will be used to not only improve on the community-based model, but will help to expand across other communities in the region.
The amount of plastic entering the ocean is projected to grow four-fold by 2050. Transformative changes, including moving away from single-use towards re-useable packaging, are needed to save our oceans, say Vincent Kneefel and John Duncan.