Disasters & Accidents

The company giving purpose to Vietnam’s plastic waste

By Eric San Juan

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Oct 20 (efe-epa).- A small business in Vietnam is taking plastic waste pollution and turning it into furniture ranging from elegant pieces of design to social housing.

Plastic People was set up by Argentinian Nano Morante and Spaniard Néstor Catalán, and based on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon.

“Plastic People is a solution to a waste problem that everyone overlooks. It came from an idea to find a solution that was not only eco-friendly but also social, a way of using garbage to give hope to people,” Morante tells EFE.

The pair got the project in motion back in 2019 when both found themselves at a point in their lives where they began to care less about their professional careers and more about trying to improve society.

“I love nature, but it kills me when you go to the mountains and you see how dirty it is,” Catalán says.

“I’ve learned to complain less and do more,” he adds. “It’s our responsibility to find solutions to the problems we’re making.”

The solution they came up with — and that grew into a business of its own — was a system to process shredded plastic into boards.

With the help of designers and construction workers, these boards have been used for a wide range of purposes, from changing tables or toboggans for children, to social housing.

“We’re working with furniture manufacturers and construction companies. We can also make flooring, walls and ceilings on a large scale. We’ve already done three houses in a pilot social project in the Mekong Delta region,” Catalán says.

“We’re transforming waste into something useful,” he adds from Plastic People’s processing center.

One thing was clear to the entrepreneurial pair from the outset of the project — it could not just depend on being an environmentally-friendly and socially responsible venture, it also had to be financially viable as a business without needing to rely on donations.

“For this to work well, we have to give the waste a value that allows us to sustain ourselves as well as the person who collects the garbage. We want everyone to be a part of this change,” Catalán says.

The primary material is far from scarce in Vietnam.

The Southeast Asian country has upped its plastic consumption by 10 times in the last 20 years and is fourth on the list of countries most responsible for throwing plastic waste into the ocean — an estimated 730,000 tons a year — partly down to its underdeveloped recycling industry.

A government study said that only 27 percent of the 1.8 million tons of plastic consumed in Vietnam on an annual basis is recycled, mainly waste that is considered higher value, such as plastic bottles, which can be sold to recycling centers.

Catalán and Morante turned their attention to different types of plastic waste, mainly material discarded by the recycling centers, which ends up clogging Vietnam’s landfills or floating around the world’s oceans.

“The collectors pick up things they will be paid for. They don’t collect plastic bags or containers because nobody will pay for those. We focus on that kind of waste that nobody processes and we convert it into something of value,” Catalán says.

Another thing that sets Plastic People apart is its policy of only using local plastic waste, despite it being much more efficient to process waste imported from abroad, which is already sorted and prepared.

“The cost of that waste is very cheap because countries want to get rid of it. For that reason, around 80 percent of the base material that recycling centers in Vietnam use is from abroad,” Catalán says.

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