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FEATURE STORY June 2, 2020

Meet our Innovator Protecting Our Oceans in Lao PDR: Dr. Vatthanamixay Chansomphou

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Dr. Vatthanamixay Chansomphou’s love for the environment and his knack for numbers, nudged him into establishing the FES Waste Recycle Bank, converting trash into dollars. This new scheme encourages communities to rethink their plastic consumption and their impact on the ocean beyond Laos’ land-locked borders.

Tell us about yourself. 

I was born in Pakse, Champassak Province in the South of Lao PDR, and moved to the capital, Vientiane, when I was four years old. I have three brothers and growing up, our parents always encouraged us to study. Our favorite subjects in school were math and science. 

Living in Vientiane has given us a lot of opportunities to pursue high levels of education.  I graduated from the National University of Laos with a degree in civil engineering, and I worked as an engineer in Laos before moving to Japan to study my master’s and then a PhD in economic development.  I am now a professor at the Faculty of Environmental Sciences (FES) under the National University of Laos. 

 

How did you come up with the idea for ‘FES Waste Recycle Bank’? How does it work?

I had learned that waste was fast becoming a huge problem in our country, and the whole world. So I started to search for efficient and effective ways to convince people to reduce, re-use and recycle waste products, by researching and asking colleagues working in the environmental field. And so at the end of 2017, my colleagues and I established the FES Waste Recycle Bank

People can bring different types of waste to us, where we then measure it, determine the waste’s monetary value, and deposit the return into their bank account. This initiative aims to share knowledge about solid waste management, promote waste segregation at its source, and it turns waste into valuable products, such as baskets, bowls and key chains. 

We plan to establish similar banks in other faculties of the National University of Laos, in schools, and in some of the markets around [the Laos capital] Vientiane. The idea is to build a network of waste banks.

We want people to acknowledge the value of waste, and use resources in more efficient and sustainable ways. Our long-term goal is to bring the concept of circular economy in to practice in Laos. Currently, our waste bank can only accept certain types of waste such as  plastic bottles, paper and metals for instance.   Soon, we will accept more types of waste into our bank; as we are now working on ways to turn waste into resources; such as energy and furniture. 

I’ve also been involved in a World Bank-supported Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for Laos, part of the Second Lao Environment and Social Project (LENS). The project aims to strengthen environmental protection and biodiversity management across Laos by building capacity at the government, civil society and community level, particularly around pollution reduction. And I have also been involved in data collection for a World Bank study into plastic waste that will contribute to Lao government’s new Road Map and Action Plan for reducing plastic waste.


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(Photo supplied)


If you had a magic wand and could change or fix one issue or challenge facing our oceans, what would it be?

It would be to change people’s use of plastic and the way they dispose of it. I would change people’s behavior to ensure no plastic was littered into the rivers that ends up in the oceans. It would save the lives of aquatic creatures and habitats in the oceans.

 

What does this year’s World Oceans Day theme, “Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean” mean to you?

These days, technology and innovative ideas are really critical to changing the world for the better. Coming up with better ways for each one of us on how to shop, dispose of rubbish and to recycle in order to be a more mindful consumer and not being wasteful is essential to protect the ocean and our world.


What message would you like everyone to hear on World Oceans Day 2020?

I know that plastic has become part of our modern life. And its low-cost and material advantages make it necessary for everything in our daily life. But we must remember that our actions – good or bad - affect the environment, either in a positive or negative manner.

Our ever-increasing reliance on single-use plastics, our throwaway culture and poor waste management system have created a huge problem. Therefore, we should be careful of how we use or consume plastic materials. We all could help save the oceans and the planet by gradually changing our excessive consumption lifestyles and reckless use of precious resource. We could start by refusing, reducing, and reusing plastics. These small behaviors would have a huge impact on the oceans – but for it to work, we must all act together, wherever we are.


**The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.



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