Time to declare war on plastic in Thailand

  • Mismanaged plastic in the world
  • Plastic waste clogs a Thai canal
  • Wasting in Thailand
  • Mismanaged plastic waste output
  • Thailand is filled with plastic bags
  • Plastic bottles on a Thai beach

Re­duc­ing the vol­ume of plas­tic waste in Thai­land has been an un­achiev­able task for a long time. Cut­ting down on sin­gle uses of plas­tic ma­te­ri­als has also been an is­sue largely ig­nored by most con­sumers. Of­fi­cial at­tempts, such as public aware­ness cam­paigns and vol­un­tary co­op­er­a­tion sought from busi­nesses, have al­ways been short-lived, leav­ing piles of plas­tic waste moun­tains rot­ting on poorly man­aged dump sites. But a re­cent ef­fort by the Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Depart­ment (PCD) sug­gests that we may be able to tackle the plas­tic waste prob­lem and ex­pect con­crete re­sults if gov­ern­ment agen­cies take se­ri­ous ac­tion, set achiev­able time-bound goals and reach out to key stake­hold­ers, es­pe­cially the pri­vate sec­tor that gen­er­ates plas­tic ma­te­ri­als.

Mismanaged plastic waste output

On Wed­nes­day the PCD re­ported its progress on its plan to end the use of plas­tic cap seals on drink­ing wa­ter bot­tles. Di­rec­tor-gen­eral Sunee Piya­pan­pong said nine man­u­fac­tur­ers of drink­ing wa­ter have stopped us­ing plas­tic cap seals. By next year, the PCD tar­gets half of all man­u­fac­tur­ers to do the same. By 2019, it aims for all of them to put an end to this un­nec­es­sary pack­ag­ing.

Plas­tic cap seals on wa­ter bot­tles are not ma­te­ri­als used to as­sure hy­giene or safety stan­dards, ac­cord­ing to the PCD. Due to their light weight and minute scale, cap seals be­come plas­tic waste that is dif­fi­cult to man­age. They are too small to be ef­fec­tively col­lected. Their light weight makes it easy for them to be scat­tered in the en­vi­ron­ment.

Ev­ery year Thai­land gen­er­ates 4.4 bil­lion bot­tles of drink­ing wa­ter, with 60% us­ing plas­tic cap seals, gen­er­at­ing 520 tonnes of waste.

Plastic bottles on a Thai beach

In set­ting this goal for end­ing cap seal use, the PCD goes be­yond the usual ap­proaches of rais­ing public aware­ness or seek­ing vol­un­tary co­op­er­a­tion from the pri­vate sec­tor. It has en­gaged all man­u­fac­tur­ers in talks and in­vited them to join a me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing — an agree­ment that they will fol­low the same di­rec­tion.

The ef­fort of the depart­ment is an ex­am­ple of a step-by-step ap­proach that gov­ern­ment agen­cies should ap­ply when it comes to tack­ling the sin­gle use of plas­tic bags. It has been proved that vol­un­tary ef­forts by ask­ing for co­op­er­a­tion from con­sumers and busi­nesses does not yield con­crete re­sults.

Thailand is filled with plastic bags

In­stead, the wide­spread habit of the sin­gle use of plas­tic bags oc­cur­ring al­most at ev­ery point of sale has be­come a com­mon habit in Thai­land. At su­per­mar­kets, fresh mar­kets, con­ve­nience stores, mom-and-pop shops and street ven­dors, the av­er­age Thai con­sumer is of­fered plas­tic bags for al­most ev­ery­thing they bought, and they in fact also ex­pect it as a kind of ser­vice. Ev­ery year, Thais use more than 70 bil­lion bags, which ac­count for more than 20% of the coun­try’s to­tal solid waste.

Even though there have been many cam­paigns in re­cent years urg­ing con­sumers to opt for cloth bags, the ef­forts have not been suc­cess­ful as they have been only tem­po­rar­ily adopted by a small por­tion of con­sumers and re­tail­ers.

Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-o-cha him­self tried to lead a re­newed at­tempt in June, act­ing as a poster boy for a cam­paign run by the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity Pro­mo­tion call­ing for con­sumers to re­frain from plas­tic bag use three days a week. The cam­paign has done lit­tle to change con­sumers’ be­hav­iour.

It is time for au­thor­i­ties to start tak­ing a more vig­or­ous ap­proach through con­crete ac­tion to cut down the use of plas­tic bags. They should ex­plore en­force­able op­tions such as the im­po­si­tion of levies on the pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion of plas­tic bags by busi­nesses and the use of them by con­sumers. Ban­ning them out­right may face public re­sis­tance.

If buy­ers have to pay one or two baht for ev­ery bag they need, they will even­tu­ally re­duce the use of plas­tic bags or even re­cy­cle the old ones they have.

Mean­while, state agen­cies should also un­der­stand the na­ture of many Thai con­sumers who usu­ally rely on take­aways as sources of cooked food wrapped in plas­tic bags or foam con­tain­ers. If the gov­ern­ment pro­vides in­cen­tives for busi­nesses to pro­duce and use food con­tain­ers made from re­cy­clable ma­te­ri­als, this can draw wider sup­port.

Mismanaged plastic in the world

The need to cut down plas­tic waste is an ur­gent mat­ter. Plas­tic waste harms our liveli­hoods, block­ing drains and ex­ac­er­bat­ing flood­ing, for ex­am­ple. It also poses threats to the en­vi­ron­ment. Last year Thai­land re­port­edly dumped 2.83 tonnes of garbage into the sea, 12% of which was plas­tic waste. Ma­rine an­i­mals have in­gested plas­tic bags, mis­tak­ing them for food. Plas­tic waste in the ocean has also de­graded into mi­croplas­tic con­sumed by ma­rine micro­organ­isms such as zoo­plank­ton and fish, en­ter­ing into our aquatic food chain.

Gov­ern­ment agen­cies need to en­gage di­rectly and equally with all man­u­fac­tur­ers and distrib­u­tors of plas­tic ma­te­ri­als, set­ting tough rules that will pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment even though this may up­set them.

Source: Bangkok Post

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About the author

Thomas has a university background in the UK and in Latin America, with studies in Languages and Humanities, Culture, Literature and Economics. He started his Asian experience as a publisher in Krabi in 2005. Thomas has been editing local newspapers and magazines in England, Spain and Thailand for more then fifteen years. He is currently working on several projects in Thailand and abroad. Apart from Thailand, Thomas has lived in Italy, England, Venezuela, Cuba, Spain and Bali. He spends most of his time in Asia. During the years Thomas has developed a great understanding of several Asian cultures and people. He is also working freelance, writing short travel stories and articles for travel magazines. Follow Thomas on www.asianitinerary.com

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