Every day, Earth Day, Keep Hanoi Clean makes a difference

Phuong Khanh - Phuong Thao - Tan Bao
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(VOVWORLD) - 400 volunteers, 8.5 tons of garbage collected. These are only two of the incredible achievements Keep Hanoi Clean (KHC) crew and volunteers have made - and this is just the beginning. Their Earth Day Clean-up event was hosted by KHC in downtown Hanoi to make polluted public spaces more liveable and help raise the sustainable profile for the city. Join me in discovering more about this ‘green’ event, one of the biggest clean-ups in Hanoi.

Every day, Earth Day, Keep Hanoi Clean makes a difference  - ảnh 1Photo: Keep Hanoi Clean

A non-profit registered social enterprise, Keep Hanoi Clean aims to educate people about the advantages of environmental protection and to host hands-on clean-up activities in the city as part of its beautification program. On International Earth Day (April 22), we’re reminded of how urgent it is to reaffirm our commitment to the environment and together #InvestinOurPlanet (This is also the Earth Day 2022 theme). As part of the effort, KHC hopes the event will continue to inspire the community to take positive action and bring green, zero-waste public spaces to the city.

“So this area, the riverbank area, especially that belonging to Hoan Kiem District, has some of the last green space in downtown Hanoi. So we are wanting to help restore, protect, and clean up this space, so that it can be a green space for Hanoi citizens for a long time. We also want to make it more accessible and more usable.” That’s what KHC Director Douglas Snyder, leader of the clean-up, said about Son Hai Temple, the chosen location for the event.
Every day, Earth Day, Keep Hanoi Clean makes a difference  - ảnh 2Photo: Tan Bao/VOV

In the heat of 31°C, the clean-up was joined by volunteers of all ages from Hanoi and other localities with support from the People's Committee of Chuong Duong Ward and partners. Everyone rolled up their sleeves and headed to the main spots to clean up.

To Thi Cuong was one of the first to arrive. She was sweating while trying to pluck the unwanted greenery from the garden. She said: "I woke up at 5:30 this morning, joined the clean-up event on Vong Ha street, had a quick breakfast and returned for this event. I’m very active in joining clean-up efforts in my neighborhood— picking up trash, removing posters, and other things to make the streets cleaner."

Each participant took charge of a different task: picking up trash, pulling out weeds, removing leftover wood planks, etc. There were several young kids around but 11-year-old Ha Lam Truc seemed particularly engaged in what she was doing. The little girl did her share the whole time, picking up trash and helping wherever she could.

She said, “I want to protect the environment and I just want to let people know that picking up  trash, I mean like when people see us picking up trash, they will think it’s pretty normal.“I’m the youngest, but I don’t feel too ashamed about it, I feel normal because it doesn’t matter. We’re all human and we’re just helping each other. That’s all.”

Every day, Earth Day, Keep Hanoi Clean makes a difference  - ảnh 3Photo:Tan Bao/ VOV

According to the National State Environment Report 2019, the total amount of daily household waste in Vietnam has increased by 46% over nine years, and a large portion is discharged into the surroundings. In Hanoi, 6,500 tons of waste are generated every day, and Nam Son landfill alone receives 5,000 tons per day.

English teacher John Bliss is concerned about the plastic waste problem. He said, “Well, it’s everywhere but it’s mostly toward the river. I mean it’s plastic, you know, when you’re digging and finding plastic and more plastic. And plastics are not biodegradable. And there’s a lot of plastic used in the world,  and there’s a lot in Vietnam and I think it’s not only plastic but it’s also education. Actually I’m not saying that I do it but there’s too much when you use plastic that it won’t go away and it’s truly important that we pick up plastic.”

Though the weather was hot, all volunteers on site were wearing gloves, masks and safety vests while on duty as they had to come in contact with trash, soil and dust. Mr. Snyder explained the safety rules: “Everybody has to wear gloves. Even if there wasn’t Covid, it’s good to wear a mask, so we don’t get anything in our mouth. People shouldn’t touch their face while they’re cleaning. And I tell people not to stand on top of the garbage, because you don’t know what’s underneath. People should stand on the ground, and then we’ll get the garbage from there.”

Participants worked in pairs to maintain energy for the whole event. Each pair was in charge of a small area, but when it came to more physically demanding tasks like lifting wood from the riverbank, they were divided into small groups, then formed lines to move the planks to the collection point.

Every day, Earth Day, Keep Hanoi Clean makes a difference  - ảnh 4Photo:Tan Bao/ VOV

Clean-up tools like tongs were available to help volunteers avoid direct exposure to trash. A special container for needles was also equipped if any hypodermic needle or similar dangerous items were found. In any case of injury, an on-call medical team could take care of the injured right on the spot.

Acknowledging the environment impact, partners are open for collaboration with KHC in this event, the first being the US Embassy in Vietnam. Holly Lindquist Thomas from the US Embassy believes in the values and positive impacts of KHC.

She said, “Well, the place I was helping to clean up, there were a few of us that were helping with a lot of kinda heavy wood that had been thrown under the hillside, so it’s not easy to move, and it would be hard for any one person to do it on their own. So today we have a big group together where we can all help each other, we made a lot of progress just in a couple hours time in getting some of that old wood stuff out of there and making way for something better. So I think that’s probably the best part. This is something that we are really committed to. I work on environment issues at the Embassy, so I’m really committed to it but the Embassy is as well.”

Vietnam Satellite Digital Television K+ also contributed to the efforts. Nguyen Thu Huong led 60 K+ personnel to join hands for a cleaner neighborhood. She said,"The river bank is sadly a place for trash dispose. We collected a lot of nylon bags and various kinds of bottles. The more we pulled out, the more we found underneath. If more rubbish bins are placed around this area, people will not throw trash into the river or along its bank."

Every day, Earth Day, Keep Hanoi Clean makes a difference  - ảnh 5Photo: Keep Hanoi Clean

In addition to picking up trash and cleaning the nearby areas, KHC promotes acts to curb air pollution by encouraging volunteers to come by bicycle or public transportation. Bikers would receive reusable bamboo/glass straws as gifts.

Dao Trong Tan and Chau Vo Tu Nhu had biked more than 10km to the destination, but didn’t seem tired at all. Tan said, “I was the one who started the idea that we’ll go by bicycle. That’s actually my workout routine. This activity is combined with volunteering and workout. We think that this organization is about keeping the environment clean, so we use vehicles that don’t throw bad things for the environment."

Meanwhile, Nhu said, "So when KHC said we can come by bicycle, I bought a new bicycle to do this challenge, from Thanh Xuan to here, over 10 km. We can go slowly in the road and see the beauty of Hanoi city.”

Mr. Snyder again, "We just encourage as many people as we can to come here, either by public transportation or by bicycle, just to have a lower impact on the environment, for the whole event. Not just right here, but everywhere.”

After the clean up was completed, everyone took a break and returned to the main venue to enjoy a vegan buffet. They took off their safety gear and lined up in front of the tables for food.

Every day, Earth Day, Keep Hanoi Clean makes a difference  - ảnh 6Photo: Keep Hanoi Clean

Traditional dishes like Bún and Phở were served along with a variety of vegan dishes made from meat-free ingredients including vegan sliced chicken made from mushroom starch, stir-fried morning glory, boiled vegetables, and vegan lean pork paste. Also, the utensils used at the event were environmentally-friendly products recycled from sugar cane bagasse.

Chef Nguyen Mai Trang is an avid vegan herself. She said, "I feel lighter in body and more peaceful in mind when I eat vegan food. Eating plant-based food helps reduce harming the environment. Raising a single pig does dispose unfriendly substances to the environment. So, being a vegan is more environmentally-friendly."

The global food system is reportedly responsible for one third of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, of which 30% comes from livestock and fisheries. Cattle ranching not only covers vast amounts of land, but also consumes three-quarters of the world’s limited freshwater resources.

Mr. Snyder elaborates, "The meat industry is pretty hard on the environment. A lot of our agriculture goes to make food for the animals, so that uses a lot of land. And the processing of animals isn’t always clean. And then there’s just a lot of us love the environment and animals. We love our cats and dogs, so we just wanna be kind and gentle with our short time on Earth here. I think a vegan lunch is a good lunch, a good match for us."

During lunch break, volunteers took in a live performances and a little game of lucky draw. They enjoyed the vegan meal while humming to the sound of a volunteer singing “Heal the World”, reminding everyone that together, they can “Heal the world / Make it a better place / For you and for me, and the entire human race.”

Every day, Earth Day, Keep Hanoi Clean makes a difference  - ảnh 7Photo: Keep Hanoi Clean
An ongoing project that the “For a Liveable Hanoi” alliance; KHC ECUE, CECR, and TPG (Think Playgrounds) team up for is Bờ Vở project, which has turned an abandoned area of 1,500m2 polluted with garbage into multi-function public space. Several activities have taken place during the past few months including clearing 182 tons of garbage, training local communities on garbage management and reduction, wastewater treatment, building forest gardens, creating a playground for children, and a pathway to connect local communities with the nearby green space. It is also expected to provide Hanoi with valuable input for the development of its urban zoning master plan.

Mr. Snyder explained, “We’re looking to go take things to the next level, so we need a lot more partners to do that, and we have a science team of PhD ecologists and bird experts and primatologists. They’re gonna be mapping all wildlife here, and we’ll be using that to come up with the plan for conservation for public use. The team will put together an assessment of what’s the ecological assets we have here, what’s the devalue, and then hopefully come up with a concept that we can all talk about.”

In addition to the beautification program, KHC has five other program areas: Education, Policy, Climate, Eco lifestyle & Eco fashion, and Consultancy, with the newest being Climate programs aiming for clean agriculture and soil regeneration.

Every day, Earth Day, Keep Hanoi Clean makes a difference  - ảnh 8Photo:Tan Bao/ VOV

For the KHC crew, this is an opportunity to raise awareness about the scale of the littering problem, get people thinking about changing their behavior thus protecting the common environment.

"Everybody can make a difference and this is a great example of how everybody can come and help with the clean-up and make a big impact. So people can look to their own neighborhoods and around, and try to have an impact there." KHC Director Snyder said People can do clean-ups, people can do community artwork, people can learn how to compost because half of all the garbage in Hanoi is kitchen scraps and garden waste. They can all be composted, none of it needs to go to the landfill. So people can take action, really just take action, do something positive and if seven million people do it in the city, then we’ll have a huge impact.”

Every day, Earth Day, Keep Hanoi Clean makes a difference  - ảnh 9Photo:Tan Bao/ VOV

After all, it’s the joint effort of all individuals that counts. For each type of pollution, there are different precautions and measures we can take, but education plays a key role. A volunteer from Singapore shared with us, “I think that the use of plastic doesn’t mean that you throw it on the ground. Because I’m from Singapore, it’s super clean and nobody litters and I feel that we need to teach that if we love the environment and we love the nature, why are we putting our trash out there? Just put in the bin so it can be processed properly.”

Every loss in nature is akin to pulling another wooden block from a Jenga game. Remove enough pieces and the tower, or in this case the living layer of Earth that supports life, will collapse. This clean-up is one small necessary step to the everlasting fight against man-made disruptions to Earth - the only known home to life. In the end, we need nature more than it needs us, and saving the ecosystem is the only way to save ourselves.

With her cover of rap song “One Small Change”, 11-year-old Ha Lam Truc wants to tell the world how each and every one of us could act and that:

“We can make a difference in our own small way.

It’s one small change: we can do that today.

Our mind’s getting bigger while the world’s getting smaller,

but saving the Earth’s becoming a tall order.

It’s our future. It’s our Earth. We need to protect it for what it’s worth.”