efe-epaHo Chi Minh City (Vietnam)

A striking installation made up of 168,000 discarded straws arranged to form surreal blue and green waves is triggering a storm against plastic waste in Vietnam, a country that dumps some eight million tons of plastic in sea every year.

The installation to visualize the hazards of plastic waste has been created by Canadian artist Benjamin Von Wong to spur the consciousness of the Vietnamese.

Titled "Parting of the Plastic Sea" in reference to Biblical division of the Red Sea, the 3.3-meter (10-feet) straw structure is to make people aware of the environmental problems triggered by the amount of plastic residue that ends up in seas and rivers, according to Wong.

The structure is on display at a Ho Chi Minh City mall and will remain there until Mar.24.

Visitors get attracted to the stunning installation. They click pictures and most of them don't leave without seeing an explanatory video on the making of the creation as they walk through the passage between the waves in the sea of straw.

Wong told EFE that he wanted to create something that could not be ignored by those who see it.

He chose discarded straws and called it Strawpocalypse. Straw, because it can be easily given up and does not require any sacrifice.

The project began last May when Julia Mesner, founder of Saigon Zero Waste, contacted Wong to help generate awareness using an artwork about the problem of plastic waste in Vietnam.

Dozens of Saigon Zero Waste volunteers then collected thousands of discarded straws over two months.

Wong also teamed up with Starbucks, regularly criticized by environmentalist groups for the plastic waste it generates across the world.

Mesner said Starbucks helped in straw collection at their branches and also helped the project financially.

She said straws at Starbucks across Vietnam were hidden and were given only when customers asked for them.

Mesner said her organization in the last a year and half of its existence has convinced over 100 establishments in the city to use eco-friendly, metal or bamboo straws.

Mesner and her husband Michael Burdge decided to set up Saigon Zero Waste when they were on an excursion where they saw a monkey chewing a plastic bag. They realized the magnitude of plastic problem in the country.

According to Science magazine report in 2015, Vietnam was at the fourth place in the world among the countries that dump largest amount of plastic in sea with eight million tons annually.

Another study of the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology in collaboration with France's research institute for development in 2018, found out that the level of micro plastics in rivers and canals of the city was thousand times more than rivers in Europe.

Wong said the Vietnamese ensure that the roads in front of their homes were clean. But they would dump garbage in drains, thinking that they have solved the problem and not realizing they have actually created them.

However, Wong added, the situation is no different in the rest of the Southeast Asia.

Overwhelmed by the statistics that forecast more plastic in the oceans than fish in 2050, Wong prefers to put more emphasis on small actions to create global changes and highlight a positive mentality that he has found in many young Vietnamese during the execution of his work.

Wong said it was motivating and inspiring to see new generations concerned about environmental problems and dedicating their time and effort in helping out in the project.

By Eric San Juan