Lonely Planet Writer

How banana leaves are replacing plastic packaging in Vietnam

As the world’s fourth-largest contributor to marine plastic pollution, Vietnam has a lot to make up for. However, a recent trend in returning to natural materials for everyday use, including banana leaves for packaging and natural grass straws for drinking, has started to gain momentum.

Travel News - Green grass straws - Image provided by Zero Waste Saigon
These straws are made from green grass. Image by Zero Waste Saigon

Banana and lotus leaves have long been used in Vietnam for cooking. Thanks to their hefty size, easy availability, and naturally water-resistant coating, they’re also used in wrapping food, especially in small, rural markets. However, grocery shoppers in some of Vietnam’s largest cities have been pleasantly surprised to see them used to wrap produce in the country’s three largest supermarket chains over the past few weeks.

Travel News - Produce wrapped in banana leaves at Co-Op Mart in Ho Chi Minh City - Image by James Pham-3
Produce wrapped in banana leaves at Co-Op Mart in Ho Chi Minh City.

The trend reportedly started in smaller, environmentally-conscious shops like Ho Chi Minh City’s Tiem Rau Cua Ba (Father’s Veggie Shop) who have been wrapping their organic produce in banana leaves since opening last December. The shop also sells cotton totes for less than US$1 and gives discounts to customers who bring their own bags. “I know it’s the trendy thing to do right now, but it doesn’t bother me as long as the practice is sustainable,” 19-year-old co-founder Nguyen Duc Thuan told Lonely Planet News.

Travel News - Produce wrapped in banana leaves at Tiem Rau cua Ba in Ho Chi Minh City - Image by James Pham-1
Produce wrapped in banana leaves at Tiem Rau cua Ba in Ho Chi Minh City Image by James Pham

Another product creating buzz is natural grass drinking straws, launched by Zero Waste Saigon, a non-profit in Ho Chi Minh City. “At the beginning, no one wanted to use them because they were worried about the hygiene,” founder Julia Mesner told Lonely Planet News of the single-use straws available fresh or dried. “But now we have over 100 restaurants and hotels using them in Vietnam. The grass grows wild and really fast on wetland [in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta], so once they’re harvested, they grow back naturally after a few weeks, hence the constant and easy supply.”