THANH HOA, Vietnam (Reuters) – There’s almost more plastic than sand on this long, tree-lined beach: Plastic helmets, plastic furniture and the plastic leg of a store mannequin all stick out ‘an ocean of blue plastic bags.
Just south of the capital Hanoi, the once peaceful and clean beach of Da Loc in Vietnam’s Thanh Hoa province has been slowly choking under the weight of plastic waste for decades.
“Plastic bags have been rubbish here since the first day we started using them,” said Pham Thi Lai, 60, a local seafood processor.
“They put everything in a plastic bag. If they keep shrimp or fish, they put them in a plastic bag, ”Lai said of local fishermen, many of whom shell clam shells and dried shrimp between mounds of plastic waste on the beach.
“When they’re done, they just throw the bags in the ocean. Garbage floats wherever the sea level rises, ”she said.
Vietnam is the world’s fourth largest contributor to marine plastic pollution, according to a 2015 study from the University of Georgia.
Globally, eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the ocean each year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, according to the United Nations Environment Program.
The latest example is a pilot whale that died in Thailand with some 80 plastic garbage found in its stomach.
The theme for Tuesday’s World Environment Day is to defeat plastic pollution, with a call for citizens, businesses and civil society groups to organize the “biggest global cleanup ever.”
On Monday, 41 embassies and international organizations in Vietnam signed a pledge to fight plastic pollution in the country.
“As international partners, we have the privilege of working in Vietnam and have a collective responsibility to reduce our plastic footprint in this beautiful country,” Canadian Ambassador Ping Kitnikone said in a statement.
The problem in Vietnam has become so severe that some people in tourist areas have started handing out reusable rattan bags and using newspapers to wrap market produce.
Officials at Da Loc beach struggled to keep up with the rising tide of trash.
“The water rises and falls everyday, how can we clean it all? Said Ngo Ngoc Dinh, head of the Da Loc People’s Committee. “We cannot escape it, we have to solve it ourselves.”
“But we hope that the right campaigns can help reduce environmental waste.”
Reporting by Kham Nguyen and Thinh Nguyen; Writing by Mai Nguyen; Editing by James Pearson and Darren Schuettler