Convenience stores are both a major element of modern life and an allegory for the environmental impact of urban life. By definition, these stores and the items they sell are designed to make our lives easier. Many of us can walk a short distance to buy a drink, snack or other essentials at any time of the day or night.

While the advantages are obvious, the convenience offered by these stores also means that we may not pay much attention to the origin and impact of each item. We don’t always know how every item we buy got there in the first place: how it was made, where it came from, where the packaging went when we used up its contents, or how the city we live in manages what we throw away.

These are the questions posed by the Circular Assessment Protocol (CAP), developed by Dr. Jenna Jambeck and her team at the University of Georgia (UGA) Circular Informatics Laboratory, which the Marine Conservancy is implementing with partners in cities around the world. CAP is a series of assessments that outlines waste and plastic waste in each city. It explores questions about consumer habits, packaging materials, the availability of plastic alternatives, and what and why it turns into waste. This data can then be shared with local, regional or national policymakers to help find ways to reduce plastic pollution.

Between February 2021 and March 2021, a team from the Center for Marine Conservation and Community Development (MCD), under the guidance of the Circular Informatics Laboratory and with the support of the Marine Conservation Society and city leaders, worked in Hanoi and Nam, Vietnam. Ding City conducted a field visit. This includes product and packaging assessments at stores in each city, interviews with government, industry and nonprofits, cost analysis of reusable products and plastic alternatives in the city, and audits of recycling pollution.

Some of the findings in Nam Dinh and Hanoi include:

  • All top convenience store items are packaged in non-recyclable plastic. More than 90% of these products are made in Vietnam. This provides an opportunity to design and manufacture alternatives locally.
  • Packaging made from natural materials is limited and expensive. These alternatives are unavailable or unknown, but local investment can help build a market for them.
  • Plastic food packaging is the most common form of garbage collection. Tobacco products and plastic debris were also some of the most common items.
  • In both cities, there is a need to increase the number of garbage collection boxes available to the public. In many areas, there are not enough litter boxes to support the amount of waste generated, which results in excess waste spilling into the environment.
  • Interviews with local residents, business owners and government officials showed their desire to tackle plastic pollution. Both private and public sector solutions are of interest.

Understanding the strengths, weaknesses and differences of these municipal waste management practices is only the first step. Learn more about the Vietnam Cycle Assessment in Hanoi and Nam Dinh. Next, with the support of the Ocean Conservancy, stakeholders in Hanoi and Nam Dinh will use the CAP findings to develop plans to improve the way they manage plastic and waste.

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