How the tourism and hospitality industry are challenging plastic waste in Laos

Green cities
In Laos, an ecological movement is growing rapidly. The Plastic Free Laos label – an initiative aiming to reduce plastic waste in the country – is making real strides toward an environmentally sustainable future. Swisscontact supports the label through its Waste to Value Project.

Laos’ capital city of Vientiane generated 350 000 tons of waste in 2020, with 20% of that coming from single-use plastic. As half of the plastic pollution hotspots are near restaurants, bars, and cafés, the tourism and hospitality industry recognised the importance of minimising waste for both the environment and their businesses. The decision was taken to introduce the Plastic Free Laos certification and label.

For small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), this is beneficial in many ways, even though they might have to make some changes to reduce their plastic use. For one, the members are linked to sustainable producers and service providers and their businesses introduced to plastic free alternatives and waste management and recycling agencies. By undergoing all these sustainable changes, the businesses profit from promotions on different social media platforms, further boosting their business.  

A waste picker sorting recyclable plastic at the landfill site

The young woman behind this sustainability initiative

Valy Phommachak, ecologist and journalis, founder of Econox

The driving force behind the label is Econox – an environmental consulting group in Laos. It was founded in 2018 by ecologist and journalist Valy Phommachak, who specialises in landscape ecology and nature conservation.

"I want to see more tourism and hospitality businesses investing in green practices. People in Laos, as well as tourists, need to be more aware of the issue."
Valy Phommachak, founder of Econox 

With Econox she is trying to achieve that goal. The consultancy offers support to members of the Plastic Free Laos label by providing expertise and the right tools to help them achieve the Plastic Free certification. In coordination with the Small and Medium Enterprise Service Centre (SSC), Econox currently manages and implements the label in partnership with the Laos Hotel and Restaurant association.

As a social enterprise, Econox focuses on environmental protection and sustainable local community development. This is made possible by including everyone in the process of becoming more environmentally sustainable: the government, the private sector, and the local communities. One crucial aspect is the certification of the Plastic Free Laos label by the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This renders the label, as well as the businesses associated with it, more credible and stable.

Growing stronger thanks to support from Swisscontact

Valy knows that the plastic issue can only be addressed if all sectors included in the plastic cycle are united. Swisscontact has assisted with the management of these complicated relations. “Swisscontact has boosted our growth and over the years, we have witnessed positive changes in plastic pollution”, says Valy.  

Through the partnership with Swisscontact, the label has expanded and fortified its offerings to combat plastic pollution. This collaboration has yielded technical support for tourism and hospitality industry members, guiding them towards attaining Plastic Free certification. A pivotal resource provided is the Green Map database, accessible via the brand’s website. This tool features an interactive map, pinpointing recycling drop-off locations, complimentary water refill stations, and vendors of eco-friendly products, while also showcasing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that adhere to commendable environmental practices.

The Waste to Value project is financed by charitable contributions. The project is part of the Swisscontact Development Programme, which is financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). Swisscontact’s endorsement of this project underscores its commitment to nurturing the market for eco-conscious employment and fostering a future that is both economically robust and ecologically balanced.

Water refill station

Spreading the word about the Plastic Free Laos label

Even though Valy and her organisation have implemented and seen crucial changes with their movement, their work is not done. This year, the plastic free label wants to increase memberships and grow their scope of impact. Valy’s team is currently working on expanding their label to more rural regions outside the capital Vientiane and the Northern province Luang Prabang. The Plastic Free Laos label plans to achieve this by collaborating with social media influencers and more generally, by investing in digital media marketing.

The label also wants to create more innovative initiatives such as developing a Green Charter with the European Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Laos. Moreover, they want to develop a certification on waste separation at source, called Waste Management Champion. This will be endorsed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Laos.

In Laos, the annual waste generated is expected to increase to 1.4 million tons by 2035, but movements such as the Plastic Free Laos label are fighting hard to avoid this number.

Green cities
Waste to Value
Swisscontact's Waste to Value project strengthens the environmental performance in service sector SMEs (hotels, restaurants, cafés and mini-marts) by improving their waste management practices and access to green products. The project further strengthens business operations and improves workplace safety for informal waste pickers increasing their income and quality of livelihood. This is complemented with awareness raising among service sector SMEs and the wider population along with encouraging public-private consultation meetings in the Lao PDR in line with national and municipal government strategies.