Phu Quoc Volunteer Group Fights Coastal Pollution in Viet Nam

Phu Quoc, also known as Pearl Island, renowned as a captivating tourist destination for both domestic and international travelers, is not just an idyllic getaway but also a cherished home and livelihood source for many. Phu Quoc Clean and Green (PQSX) is at the forefront of preserving this paradise – a collective of passionate individuals engaged in a volunteer-based effort to ensure their home island remains beautiful and an everlasting haven.

Formed in 2015 after Tran Van Sanh witnessed a child being injured by a discarded skewer on the beach, the group has since undertaken 267 activities in 8 years, collected 206 tons of trash, engaged 9,347 volunteers, and invested 792 working hours.

PQSX elevates their work with Plastic Smart Cities

With support from WWF’s Plastic Smart Cities Programme, PQSX’s activities have evolved, including plastic waste audit training sessions. The group emphasizes waste classification for efficient waste treatment and organizes volunteer activities without releasing waste into the environment. In 2023, PQSX officially became a club under the local government, solidifying its commitment to preserving the island’s natural beauty.

Beginning with love, bonded by responsibility for the Pearl Island

Witnessing children injured by beach litter made me contemplate how to ensure a clean, green, and safe environment for children and the community,” shares the leader of the Phu Quoc Clean and Green group (PQSX).

Dinh Cau beach
Plastic waste at accumulates Bach Dang wharf, close to Dinh Cau beach

In Phu Quoc, as the sun bathes the ocean in red hues every evening, locals gather at Dinh Cau Beach for a leisurely swim and relaxation. Yet, the beach is littered with plastic, contributed by the bustling sidewalk shops offering evening delights in styrofoam boxes. One afternoon in March 2015, Tran Van Sanh witnessed a child being injured by a discarded skewer while playing on the beach. This seemingly trivial incident ignited Sanh’s concern for how children and the community could thrive in a clean, green, and safe environment. Sanh shared his worry with his friends, urging the community to start with small actions like beach cleanup. Armed with tools, Sanh and his friends organized the first cleanup session, drawing nearly 40 participants.

From that moment, PQSX was born, becoming the first and only volunteer group in Phu Quoc dedicated to community and environmental well-being. Starting up with just 12 members, PQSX is made up predominantly of locals, tourism workers, and shopkeepers. The volunteer group’s primary mission was to survey and clean trash-laden beach locations on weekends. Despite facing challenges like the constant influx of ocean-borne plastic pollution and financial constraints, PQSX persevered. Sanh and his team found motivation in each cleanup session’s growing number of participants, all determined to contribute to preserving Phu Quoc’s nature.

Survey of waste hot spots in Ham Ninh
Survey of waste hot spots at Hon Mong Tay

In the initial phase of their operations, the group faced numerous challenges. Besides the approximately 1,000 tons of household plastic waste at risk of escaping into the environment annually, most of the litter on Phu Quoc’s beaches originated from the ocean, carried by currents and accumulating over the years. Despite PQSX’s persistent weekly cleanup efforts, the magnitude of the task proved overwhelming. Members participated individually, with many gradually withdrawing over time due to personal commitments. The group also needed more funds to acquire the necessary equipment for each cleanup session.

There were times when we wanted to give up, to stop doing it altogether, but the moment we played on the beach and saw the litter, we knew we couldn’t halt our efforts,” Sanh remarked with a smile. 

Despite the hardships, Sanh and his team found renewed motivation with each cleanup session as new participants joined, eager to contribute to preserving Phu Quoc’s natural  beauty.

Clean up trash at Bai Dam
Clean up trash on Dam Ngang Isle

The journey, sparked by concern for children, transformed into a commitment to the island that Sanh had grown up on. Sanh initiated meetings with the General Directors of major tourism units in Phu Quoc to amplify their impact, urging them to engage their staff in weekly cleanup activities as part of their corporate responsibility. Sanh believes that anyone benefiting from the island must contribute and repay the favour, as nature has bestowed generously upon them.

PQSX has undertaken 267 activities in eight years, collected 206 tons of trash, engaged 9,347 volunteers, and invested 792 working hours. That was a proud testament to PQSX’s enduring commitment to nature and love for their shared home. PQSX’s activities have noticeably transformed Phu Quoc, reducing the amount of waste released into nature. Beyond maintaining the cleanliness and beauty of Pearl Island, the group has actively promoted corporate social responsibility, increased community participation, and influenced local attitudes.

While some may argue that cleaning up does not address the root of the problem, at least the group is taking action – and has been persistently taking action for the past eight years,” Sanh shared.

Waste audit
Exchange trash for gifts event

With technical and financial support from WWF’s Plastic Smart Cities Programme, PQSX’s activities have evolved. Starting in 2020, PQSX engaged in plastic waste audit training sessions, enabling them to summarize, quantify, and categorize the collected waste. These activities aid in analysis and measurement of the group’s effectiveness over an extended period, contributing to the promotion of citizen science in plastic waste management. The increased emphasis on waste classification aims to enhance efficient waste treatment.

Clean up trash and ghost gear
Bring trash collected at sea to shore.

[Check out how Amsterdam has also been working with citizen scientists to initiate plastic waste monitoring]

Before the audit training, no data on marine plastic waste pollution was collected in Phu Quoc. WWF collaborated with IUCN to do the first training in 2019 mainly for Phu Quoc Marine Protected Area (MPA) staff and just key members of PQSX volunteers.  Since then, PQSX members have joined the Marine and Inland Wetlands Conservation Division (MIWCD) to conduct biannual monitoring of plastic waste pollution on beaches. Collated results from these waste audits are submitted by MIWCD to contribute to Viet Nam’s national level report.

Learning from their experience in these waste audit sessions with MIWCD, PQSX has been applying the same methodology to collect data through their cleanup activities since 2021. The data is being shared with the local government through a monitoring tool developed by WWF to help local municipalities monitor collective efforts of plastic waste reduction of various stakeholders. 

[Learn more about PSC’s Baseline methodolgy]

PQSX also takes pride in organizing volunteer activities that are designed to be waste-free  such as by not using single-use plastic, and hopes to set a positive precedent for other public event organizers.

In 2023, PQSX officially became a club under the Viet Nam Youth Association, gaining the ability to organize funds and provide insurance for key members. Looking ahead, PQSX envisions organizing a used battery collection system and collaborating with businesses for more sustainable solutions. Recognized by the city government during the preliminary and summary meeting of Phu Quoc Environment Day 2023, PQSX’s achievements mark the culmination of an eight-year journey, demonstrating their enduring commitment to keeping Phu Quoc clean and green and fostering sustainable change for the community and nature.

Share this post

Read other articles