Two RMIT Vietnam lecturers are working to combat littering in the country through public programs and an innovative mobile app.
One of the most visible environmental problems in Vietnam is widespread littering, both in rural and urban areas. Nhan Nguyen, School Manager for RMIT Vietnam’s School of Business & Management, is the co-founder of Vietnam Clean & Green which is trying to combat littering through public programs.
The group organised Earth Day Cleanup on 22 April, mobilising more than 3500 participants to pick up litter in 38 locations in five cities: Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An and Phu Quoc.
Mr Nguyen says this was a huge jump from the 1500 participants just a year ago, and certainly a far cry from his first Earth Day program at RMIT Vietnam in 2008.
“I did some research on organisations like Keep America Beautiful, Keep Australia Beautiful and Keep Britain Tidy,” Mr Nguyen explains.
“I got some green ribbons and went out to the motorbike park at RMIT and starting handing them out to students. I asked if they littered and a lot of them said, ‘No, I hate it,’ so I said, ‘Great, if you hate it, tie this ribbon around your motorbike mirror.’”
Within a few days, Mr Nguyen says, every other motorbike in the lot had a green ribbon on it, and word began to spread. In 2013, that effort evolved into Vietnam Clean & Green.
Clean up events can certainly have an impact, but Mr Nguyen believes society-wide change on this issue will ultimately have to be led by Vietnam’s government.
“We can do this and sure we’re changing people’s minds and behaviour, but it’s one person at a time,” he says. “If the government got behind it, it would be like the motorbike helmets.”
Mr Nguyen is also collaborating with colleagues at RMIT Vietnam to spread the anti-littering message through schools.
Dr Brian McCauley, a Professional Communication lecturer in the School of Communication & Design, has helped lead the development of an app called Green Turtle Hero, which is aimed at increasing public awareness of the importance of not littering.
In a 2017 paper entitled Vietnam Run: An Alternative Approach to Mobile Learning, Dr McCauley and his co-authors from RMIT Vietnam explain why they chose to pursue this method. They note that increased fines for littering have had little impact on the problem.
“As such, it is imperative to consider alternative measures that could feasibly increase the public’s environmental awareness to affect positive change in the Vietnamese community,” Dr McCauley writes.
The lecturer notes that the majority of app downloads within Vietnam are games, presenting an opportunity for researchers to pursue a new track in the fight against littering.
The result is Green Turtle Hero, originally called Vietnam Run, a simple runner-style game where the characters – designed by RMIT Vietnam design students – pick up litter as they run through various locations in Vietnam.
“The development and implementation of Vietnam Run serve two purposes,” Dr McCauley writes. “First, the game is intended to deliver a key message directly at Vietnamese youths that Vietnam is beautiful; that everyone should all do their part in not littering.”
“Secondly, the game is designed to support Vietnam Clean & Green’s efforts to educate younger Vietnamese in the importance of not littering through raising awareness in the media and becoming a central component of in-school education campaigns.”
The app is currently being piloted at a primary school in Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh Chanh District, as well as three schools in Nam Dinh Province. The mobile app project falls under Studio•V, the University’s Centre for Social and Environmental Outreach in Vietnam.
The app is available on Android or iOs under the name Anh Hung Rua Xanh.
Story: Howie Phung