Monday Morning Coffee: Pollution in SE Asia

In this episode (MMC.010): The discussion about the state of pollution in SE Asia. How does it affect businesses? What can we do to address and solve the problem? Listen and subscribe to our podcast at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or elsewhere.

Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability.

Listen to the full episode at links below.

Granger: Happy Monday morning, everybody! It is Granger Whitelaw and Cameron Lynch with Monday Morning Coffee here at The Lotus Talks. We’re glad you’re joining us. Cam, how was your weekend?

Cameron: My weekends have changed since my parents come back. It’s pretty much the same story over and over again. I ate a lot of food, I was fed more, and I drank a lot of wine. 

Granger: I think that’s boring. Mom comes home and you lose your weekend.

Cameron: As we’ve discussed many times, I’m just happy to be living here. I’m not anything like those lines. A friend had a birthday party but other than that, I keep it pretty low key right now. 

Granger: Nice! I literally worked all weekend as I often do. And it’s painful, I need a vacation. Speaking of work and being outside doing things, today we’re going to talk about pollution in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia and its effect on business and our quality of life.


How polluted is SE Asia?

Granger: Three days ago, Rayssa said to me: “Oh my God, I went for a run and I didn’t even realize it until I was having problems running and I stopped and looked up and I saw this haze over the city.” Did you notice that? 

Cameron: Yeah, of course. I never exercise outside. The only things I do outside that can be considered physical activities are either swimming or rock climbing. 

Granger: Recently, there were some stories about air pollution levels. The levels of Particular Matter (PM) reached 2.5, which is really high. The highest air quality index levels were recorded in the capital Hanoi according to some app. But I don’t know if it’s accurate or not. It’s hard to say. The point is not only Ha Noi or Ho Chi Minh, but all of Southeast Asia is experiencing a lot of pollution. A lot is coming from China and a lot is coming from other countries where there’s a lot of manufacturing, a lot of coal being used. 

Cameron: And also a lot of vehicles. Apparently, when I was reading the news, they were talking about this change in the atmospheric temperature, so it caused a lot of pollution and all of this other particular to stay on the lower level. So, when you have these temperature fluctuations and this changing of seasons, it can really cause havoc. If we want to talk about an industry that I’m pretty sure just got a giant bump, it is the hospital masks.

Granger: Yeah, everybody wears them. Do you wear a mask?

Cameron: Yeah, I do, on my bike. That’s about it. Inside, the air conditioners do a good enough job. 

Granger: I have yet to wear masks. Although I’ve thought about it many times, especially on planes. But yeah, if I was driving a bike in the city behind people, I would definitely wear a mask. 

Cameron: When I was doing a nine-day trip around Northern Vietnam, I was driving for like six hours and then when I wiped my face after, it’s black. I had dust, fuel or whatever on my face. It’s crazy. 

Granger: That is crazy. And it’s not just in the air, it’s also in the water. Vietnam does have an issue with plastics and other debris in the water as many of the countries in Southeast Asia and worldwide do. This is a worldwide issue that we care a lot about here at The Lotus Talks. 

Granger: There’s pollution in the soil. Soil pollution is a real issue. Mostly in urban areas that you have soil pollution. You need to check that because children play in the soil. So we want the soil to be safe. We also want plants to be able to grow.



How does pollution affect businesses?

Granger: All pollution out there is caused by manmade calamity, mainly by manufacturing, carbon fuels, gas, oils… So how does it affect our business? It helps us because we were able to have electricity, we’re able to get around. But how do we do better as a business and how can the country do better? 

Cameron: The refining of petroleum goods and all these kinds of stuff have drastically changed the potential, the output capacity of every industry in the world. In 200 years, the amount of development has gone on regardless, but now we’ve gotten to that point where we can’t ignore it. As everyone has been reading in the news, there’s a mass controversy over that subject.

Granger: Did I tell you when I went to Singapore a month ago, it had been the worst pollution in Singapore ever? It was the seventh week of that and the city got worse and worse. The city was horribly incapacitated. People in the fifth, sixth, seventh week wouldn’t even go out to exercise anymore. They wouldn’t go at all. It was so bad. I flew in on a Wednesday afternoon and we landed in the pouring rain. It rained for the first two or three hours I was there and that evening was cleared up. It was a beautiful night. And it was sunny for the next four days. 

Cameron: Yesterday, the rain started and it pushed down the pollution and then it was a beautiful night. We actually opened up our windows in our apartment and we have two balconies, so we had something like a wind tunnel. We rarely do that because we fear the negative health effects of having windows open all the time. And we have to clean the floors even more because it brings certain things in. 

Granger: Yeah, you gotta be careful these days. But the government is actually doing something to try to help this. There is a national level banning the use of imported used machinery that’s over 10 years old. I think it is a fabulous idea from the Vietnamese government. The new machinery nowadays is more efficient and reduces pollution waste.

Granger: Vietnam has planned a pilot carbon tax at specific factories in the four provinces of Quang Ninh, Thanh Hoa, Quang Nam, and Thua Thien Hue. For these provinces, the pilot runs from now until the end of 2021 and hopefully, that will inspire a new carbon tax credit, which would be phenomenal if we could do that here. There are many countries in the world that have carbon tax credits. It helps incentivize businesses, you can resell those on the market. Those types of things and working on laws that can help benefit us from a tax standpoint on greenhouse gas emissions for companies in the steel cement, electricity, and chemical sectors would be a phenomenal move for Vietnam. So if anybody in Hanoi is listening, good job, keep that going!

Granger: A possible motorbike ban in Hanoi is still being debated. What do you think about that?

Cameron: I was in Myanmar and they actually banned all motor vehicles, specifically, motorbikes in the city of Yangon which is the most populous city there. It’s really interesting. It’s beautiful. There’s not a lot of pollution comparatively, so that could be a possible outlet. But Yangon is also much tinier and it has a lot more giant roads. The infrastructures are different. So, it could help, definitely. Another thing that could help is just getting more public transports.  

Granger: Public transports are huge, right? Some places in Southeast Asia have great public transport, and others are trying to get there. That’s a big deal here in Ho Chi Minh City. They are trying to get the subway built and hopefully, they’ll come around. They’re testing electric buses now, which is great. That’s a big help, obviously. Vinfast is experimenting and Grab is experimenting. Vinfast motorscooter is certainly one that’s out there. I’m the Chairman of Benfe Motors, which is a company that is launching here in Vietnam. It is going to be part of an event coming up in December, which we’ll talk about later. But electric motorcycles, electric scooters can help tremendously. 4 million new bikes are being sold every year. If you could cut that in half or cut by a third or eliminate it completely as China has done, your pollution issues would certainly go down significantly here.

Cameron: There are so many efforts here like giant windmill farms and all the other methods to collect and store hydroelectricity. 

Granger: I haven’t seen a lot of hydro here. 

Cameron: There are some issues with that. The major rivers come from China and go through Cambodia and I think the Chinese are trying to dam up parts of the Mekong. But people are aware, people making moves.


What can we do to help with pollution issues?

Granger: Let’s talk about what we can do as a person and as a business to help with this pollution issue. Manufacturers really need to look at the equipment they’re using. They need to try to be more efficient about how they dispose of products. That’s a big deal. 

Cameron: There are so many textile companies do invigilation here now and they’re always going to the factories and seeing how they treat wastewater, what they do, all processes. And the stuff like bamboo fiber, it’s not environmentally safe because of the number of chemicals. Bamboo pulp, that can be good, but the bamboo fiber is one of the most toxic production methods. It is just crazy to think about that.

Granger: So, more efficient processes to get rid of the manufacturing waste… There are many ways you can do it. And the more we look at that and try to figure out as a business owner how to be more efficient and help preserve our environment, the better off we’ll all be. 

Granger: And recycle your plastic, recycle your paper as an individual, right? 

Cameron: Yeah, the big thing is waste treatment plants, especially in urban sectors. I think 15% of waste products here aren’t recycled or aren’t cared for in any means. There is definitely much to be said for that. 

Granger: It’s a big issue here, the trash and recycling and it piles up a lot of places. It’s pretty scary when you see it and it can be really devastating to the environment. Let’s all think this week about how can you make a difference and what can you do to help improve your environmental footprint? How can you reduce your carbon footprint? What can you do to help the environment in Vietnam and Southeast Asia? We’ll look at that this week and talk about maybe some businesses or a business that is really helping out here in Vietnam and leading the example for everybody. Have a great Monday!

The Lotus Talks is produced by The Vietnam Group. This episode was produced by Granger Whitelaw, Cameron Lynch and Toan Tang.

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