Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

Recycling and Waste Management in the Mekong Delta by Leah Lynch

Throughout my travels through Vietnam I have studied and absorbed my surroundings like a fresh sponge. LeahLynchGarbage_SonIsland_053One concept I have had difficulties grasping is that with so many great strides Vietnam has made towards innovative farming and carbon reduction, the country seemingly has no recycling or waste management system in place. I first noticed this and was surprised during our visit to a Mangrove Restoration site. With a focus on restoring the environment that once was impacted so negatively and making efforts to improve it, the mangrove site CanThoCanalWithTrashhad areas of regrowth but among the regrowth was litter of old styrofoam plates and take out boxes, plastic bottles and soda cans. I had to ask myself if a restoration site does not have a clean environment, how does the rest of the country fair? I kept my eyes open to my surroundings after that, curious to see if there were more circumstances similar to this. To my dismay when I was crossing a bridge, exploring the city of Can Tho, individuals were swimming in the water with large pieces of trash floating next to their heads and they were unfazed. How could someone swim knowing there is garbage surrounding them? As an American, I have known that any water in that condition is not swimmable. This made me concerned not only for Vietnam but for other countries that do not put waste management as a priority, not only for the environment but sanitation responsibilities regarding their citizens.


UM students were lucky enough to work and learn from the Delta Youth Alliance, an organization of Can Tho University students. We were able to travel to Son Island and learn of the environmental and ecotourism changes occurring. GarbageAtSonIslandYet while hiking GarbageOnRiverBankthrough and discovering such a beautiful little island, I couldn’t help but notice litter and trash washed up on the eroding shores. When I asked the Can Tho students if there was any means of a clean up crew, they informed me while there are environmental groups, they have not taken the action of any clean up crew along the shores or created any activist motions to form a proper recycling and waste management program. CTU_Students_Diagram_SonIsland_052News of this truly saddened me. Vietnam has become known among the millennial generation for its beautiful landscapes and friendly people. All of this I can say is true in my short time of being here. An air of disappointment reigns over me, however, as I discover and learn more and more of this beautiful land to see it spoiled by waste that could easily be resolved. GarbageInRiverIt was unsettling to see styrofoam, water bottles, potato chip bags and other discarded items in the streets of the city but I could understand the difficulty of managing that in a growing and urbanizing city after seeing our own cities in America. The true discouragement came when rural communities, restoration sites, and eroding islands experienced the same kind of waste on their lush green lands. In hopes and efforts that Vietnam has begun a recycling and waste management program I did some outside research; yearning for just one article, one story, one example that could show me action was being taken to keep this captivating land in all its glory.


However, I did not find myself so fortunate. I can only hope, wish and can speak with Can Tho University students that they take action and begin creating a movement to keep their environment as stunning and enjoyable as it has been in the past. The CTU students are smart, excitable and motivated. I have the utmost trust they can begin the appropriate actions to keep their environment as beautiful as I, and my fellow UM peers have experienced it.



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