Give the gift of sustainability with package-free gifts for your eco-conscious loved ones

Three years ago, Quyen Nguyen read the book Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, which changed the way she would think about plastic for the rest of her life. “Before that, I never thought about plastic staying on the earth long. The articles and videos I saw before this book that showed the plastic in the oceans were not relevant enough to me to make a change,” explains Quyen, who has a background in supply chain consulting in Vietnam.

Around the same time, Quyen and Helly Tong, now business partners, became friends after sharing their concerns for the abundant plastic use in their home country, Vietnam. The pair spent the next few years brainstorming various business ideas that would deliver alternatives to plastic use directly to the local consumers. Initially, Quyen along with Helly, a popular public influencer in Vietnam who promotes living an eco-friendly life, noticed that many of the articles and publications highlighting the problems with plastic in Vietnam were all in English. “Expats and foreigners are already very aware of the plastic issue, so we decided our end goal is the Vietnamese people,” Quyen adds.

rsz Oi-VietNam-Laiday-refill-station-Helly-Tống-Đỗ-Quyên-December-2018-IMG_7558-1024x683

Do Quyen and Helly Tong

Having settled on an idea, the pair began plans in the early part of 2018 to open Vietnam’s first non-food bulk store that encourages customers to bring in empty containers and fill them with the non-food products that the store sells for a lower cost than buying them in shops. Laiday Refill (83 Xuan Thuy, D2) officially opened in October after months of building relationships with eco-friendly suppliers that operate in the reuse-recycle-reduce circle in Vietnam and neighboring countries. “As we started talking to suppliers, we realized there are a lot of products that people need, and want plastic-free alternatives to.” Quyen continues to explain how Laiday Refill now has over 200 products divided into refillable products and reusable solutions.

As we chat, Quyen explains that Laiday Refill is not a ‘zero-waste’ store as this puts too much pressure on both themselves and their customers. “We are simply less waste; less is okay,” says Quyen, adding “the bristles on bamboo toothbrushes are made from nylon, we can’t deny this but we are using plastic in the best way and this is what we want to show people.” Alongside the 20 types of refillable products that span homecare and personal care, the shop also sells a number of reusable solutions that range from sanitary items, such as menstrual cups and washable pads, to everyday items, such as bamboo toothbrushes, razors and canvas shopping bags.

While the store enables customers to make a positive impact on the environment by encouraging the act of reusing old containers instead of buying new ones, it also benefits the local economy. Seventy-five percent of the store’s refillable and reusable products are produced in Vietnam in order to reduce the CO2 emissions and to keep it very much Vietnamese; the other 25 percent, which come from India, China and Germany among others, are only imported because Vietnamese manufacturers are not yet producing them. “When the Vietnamese products are ready, they will replace the imported ones,” adds Quyen.

Why is this kind of store important to the people of Vietnam now? Vietnam is one of the top five contributors to marine plastic pollution in the world. “Each day, Ho Chi Minh City alone releases 70 tons of plastic packaging and over 50 tons of this, is plastic bags,” explains Quyen. With Vietnam’s plastic problem increasing at an alarming rate, there is no better time to show the Vietnamese population that there are simple alternatives to plastic use out there than now.

“The younger generation in Vietnam lacks the intrigue as to where their products come from and where they go after they have been used,” Quyen explains. The pair hopes to also target schools with educational programs about reducing plastic use. “Children are pure, impressionable and have great empathy with animals. They will be the ones to pass on the message to the next generation; they are important in educating the country about how you can live a sustainable lifestyle.”

The store’s slogan “Lại đây, lại đầy” is a play on the Vietnamese language; whilst the six letters are the same, the accents mean they translate into “Come here, get refilled again.” Highlighting even more how important it is to the Quyen and Helly that curiosity is spiked by the store and the local people find it approachable.

Oi VietNam - Laiday refill station - December 2018 - IMG_7539

As you begin to explore the beautiful earth-like decorated store where glass containers lined the shelves, you begin to realize how many things can be swapped for a non-plastic alternative. This is the reaction many people have when they first enter the store, Quyen tells them to “just buy what you need, then after you get used to it, come and buy more,” in order to prevent unnecessary waste. Quyen explains that the store’s beauty was something they put a lot of thought into, “We only have one time to convince, impress and surprise people. Living green is often not considered beautiful in many of the locals’ eyes. We have made a lot of effort to convince people that living green doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice anything, especially not beauty.” Continuing with a clear passion shining through, Quyen adds that the store has various colors, fragrances and solutions for the same product for this exact reason so that they can convince people to make the change to less plastic.

Oi VietNam - Laiday refill station - December 2018 - IMG_7506

A recent poll by Sky News revealed that 84 percent of consumers share concerns over the amount of plastic waste during the Christmas period and half of those polled would rather receive unwrapped gifts. 2018 is the year to ramp up the fight against plastic pollution as now, more than ever, it is in the forefront of the world’s mind. What better way to go into the new year than giving the gift of a free conscience but also opening up loved ones to the endless opportunities to reusable and refillable products. The gift of sustainability is one that will continue to benefit, not only the Vietnamese population but also the entire world. If you can’t find what you’re looking for it in the store, request it and Quyen and Helly will work hard to source your plastic-free alternative.

Images by Vy Lam