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Thailand’s battle with plastic: Is it making a difference?


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Thailand’s battle with plastic: Is it making a difference?

by Sami Reed Cleaver

 

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Walking around a floating market on the outskirts of Bangkok, I was spending the day with a Thai friend and a few of his work colleagues. While we were buying food for a shared lunch, I noticed his colleague accepting a plastic bag with every single item of food she bought. She started to look like the main character from the movie ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ with bags quickly filling up space on her tiny lower arms. 

 

As she went to buy pomelo slices, I pulled out my reusable cotton bag and expressed ‘Mai ow tuung plastic naka’ (no plastic bag) to the market vendor and motioned for him to put the newly purchased pomelo in my cotton bag. The market vendor smiled and lightly chuckled as he gently teased me about whether he should take off the plastic wrapping too.

 

It happened once again as I bought a coconut and whipped out my reusable straw. The market lady cackled with laughter and expressed “Dii maak farang!” (very good) as she put a plastic straw back into its box. 

 

“Why is there such a cultural difference between westerners and Thai people when it comes to the environment and using plastic?” I curiously asked my Thai friend.

 

“Thai people are conscious about the environment too, they’re just not as serious as farangs,” he replied. “It’s more common amongst the younger generation as it’s seen as a ‘modern’ thing to do. I guess it’s too much of a culture shift for older people who aren’t used to carrying their own bags, straws, and cups. But people are trying. There’s more awareness now from the government on the news and social media.”

 

Despite this eco-conscious way of living becoming a seemingly ‘new’ way of living for most of the Thai population, Thailand has been making small ripples in a more environmentally-aware world.

 

Environmental consciousness has been gaining attention worldwide over the past decade. In 2019, we saw widespread media reporting of environmental problems such as natural disasters and the largest climate strike in history, led by Greta Thunberg, which grabbed the attention of global citizens worldwide. 

 

But where does Thailand stand in this global movement?

 

Where does Thailand rank with Eco-consciousness? 

 

Over the past three decades, Thailand has made remarkable progress and advances in economic progress. But this is not without costs to the environment. Industrial power plants, urban architecture, an increase in vehicles and seasonal agricultural burning have all led to the destruction of forests, overuse of the land and water and shocking air pollution levels.

 

Air pollution 

 

Anyone who has stayed or visited Chiang Mai during the ‘burning season’ will have experienced the awful air quality first-hand. In March 2020, Chiang Mai was given the top spot for having the worst air pollution in the world. Bangkok came in at 18th place. Air pollution is responsible for five million deaths each year on a global scale.  

 

Ocean pollution 

 

According to WWF, more than 310 million tons of plastic were generated in 2016 – one-third of that plastic ended up in the ocean. They diagnosed the issue as being ‘uncontrollable’ and warned the global population that unless change happens, the plastic pollution of our oceans could double and impose severe threats to marine life, our economy, and our health. The last global research report in 2010 identified the top polluting nations – Thailand was ranked at number seven, with a contribution of 1.03 million tonnes of plastic waste to the ocean. 

 

In summary, the Sustainable Cities Index 2018 report, which explores city sustainability, ranked Bangkok 80 of out of 100 major cities around the world (1 – best; 100 – worst). 

 

What is Thailand doing about reducing the use of plastic? 

 

Saying no to plastic bags 

 

From the 2 million tonnes of plastic waste generated by Thailand per year, most of the waste is single-use plastic bags from malls, supermarkets, convenience stores, local markets, and street vendors. 

 

In September 2019, Varawut Silpa-Archa, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment announced a public campaign banning the use of plastic bags in a public campaign to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags from January 2020. They even went as far as pixelating plastic bags in commercials and TV shows.

 

Many big-name companies such as 7/11, Big C, Tesco Lotus, and Villa Market were onboard and made the necessary changes to support this campaign. However, disappointingly, many locals and expats (including myself) are still being given unbranded plastic bags in our local 7/11s without asking for them. 

 

Saying no to plastic straws 

 

Along with the plastic bag ban movement at the beginning of 2020, Starbucks took the lead in saying ‘no’ to plastic straws. A global commitment, the food and beverage retailer started to provide strawless lids and eco-friendly straws to their customers. They are committed to eliminating more than one billion plastic straws from their stores per year. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Thai coffee brands. Cafe Amazon now provides biodegradable straws and compostable cups and Inthanon Coffee uses cups made from 100% plant biomass. 

 

Full Story: https://expatlifeinthailand.com/news-and-event/thailands-battle-with-plastic-is-it-making-a-difference-2/

 

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-- © Copyright Expat Life in Thailand 2020-09-22
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Thailand is not having a battle against plastic. I could go to HomePro right now and buy it by the square meter. It is on the floor below the paints and solvents.

 

Thailand has adapted one element of the Western PC approach of causing people pain and inconvenience for some meaningless symbolic victory.

 

If you even really thought there was a question of winning, you would have put more effort into defining goals and metrics. The main objective mentioned is ocean plastic, but Bangkok has near 100% collection rates. 90% of plastic comes from 10 rivers in China and Africa as well as the Chinese fishing fleet. But by ignoring that and harassing Thai citizens you are only imposing a useless colonial framework on them. No wonder they laugh at you.

 

"From the 2 million tonnes of plastic waste generated by Thailand per year, most of the waste is single-use plastic bags from malls, supermarkets, convenience stores, local markets, and street vendors. " This statistic is clearly made up. It is not accurate. Please provide a link so that I can disabuse it more completely. 

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11 hours ago, Ruamari said:

Thailand is not having a battle against plastic. I could go to HomePro right now and buy it by the square meter. It is on the floor below the paints and solvents.

 

Thailand has adapted one element of the Western PC approach of causing people pain and inconvenience for some meaningless symbolic victory.

 

If you even really thought there was a question of winning, you would have put more effort into defining goals and metrics. The main objective mentioned is ocean plastic, but Bangkok has near 100% collection rates. 90% of plastic comes from 10 rivers in China and Africa as well as the Chinese fishing fleet. But by ignoring that and harassing Thai citizens you are only imposing a useless colonial framework on them. No wonder they laugh at you.

 

"From the 2 million tonnes of plastic waste generated by Thailand per year, most of the waste is single-use plastic bags from malls, supermarkets, convenience stores, local markets, and street vendors. " This statistic is clearly made up. It is not accurate. Please provide a link so that I can disabuse it more completely. 

Please provide a link that Bangkok has 100% collection rates and that 90% of plastic comes from 10 rivers in China and Africa so that I can disabuse it more completely.

Easy for you to demand, so easy for me to do too.

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All the plastic rubbish on Thai beaches didn't come from China. Yes, the completely over the top use of plastic here was a bit of the shock when i first arrived - far worse than the UK ever was. As was the litter and fly tipping in the villages. 

 

Yes, things have improved over the past 10 years, even before the ban. But plastic use is about 300% more than the UK ever was, and there is still a mountain to climb. I guess it will be one small step at a time for the next 30 years. In Thailand, they haven't even started to think about microplastics from washing clothes - and they wash a whole machine load every day. Is Bangkok filtering that out of waste water?

 

There are many simple steps that could be taken easily - they might have only minimal impact on the total, but anything helps. The first that comes to mind is cotton buds - plastic sticked ones now banned in UK, cardboard instead. Simple, small and no impact on the customer.

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43 minutes ago, rickudon said:

All the plastic rubbish on Thai beaches didn't come from China. Yes, the completely over the top use of plastic here was a bit of the shock when i first arrived - far worse than the UK ever was. As was the litter and fly tipping in the villages. 

 

Yes, things have improved over the past 10 years, even before the ban. But plastic use is about 300% more than the UK ever was, and there is still a mountain to climb. I guess it will be one small step at a time for the next 30 years. In Thailand, they haven't even started to think about microplastics from washing clothes - and they wash a whole machine load every day. Is Bangkok filtering that out of waste water?

 

There are many simple steps that could be taken easily - they might have only minimal impact on the total, but anything helps. The first that comes to mind is cotton buds - plastic sticked ones now banned in UK, cardboard instead. Simple, small and no impact on the customer.

I have lived here 25 years and the plastic use shocked me too.  Going to the supermarket and coming away with single items in plastic carrier bags - eggs in one, bread in another, and anything heavier than a tin of beans double bagged.  However they have made enormous strides in the last 12 months and that is to be applauded.

The single use plastic shopping bag is a thing of the past.  When that came into effect at the turn of the year you should have seen the hysteria on here.  Embarrassing and shameful to see the majority of posters saying it will not last, the supermarkets will be back handing out bags within two weeks and - shamefully - so many posters saying they will never shop at a 7-Eleven or particular supermarket again if they don't give out plastic bags, and that they would dump their groceries at the till (after they had been rung up) if they couldn't get plastic bags.  Childish, selfish behaviour.  Those posters are still here, probably reading this thread.  They must be pretty hungry by now as they haven't been able to shop for months.  I would love to dig up some of those threads and ask the guys how they are doing but I have better things to do.

Anyway, I digress.  Meanwhile the Thais quickly and quietly adapted and within days were bringing their own reusable bags to the shops.  And now it is so completely normal it is hard to imagine it being any other way (apart from the posters who are still dumping their shopping).  

Thailand still needs to do much much better as you said.  Go to 7-Eleven and you can buy a banana, and each one is wrapped in plastic.  Why?  Vegetables, fruit, individually plastic wrapped.  Again, why?  At the turn of this year though all single use plastics will be banned and I have faith it will be enforced just as the plastic shopping bag ban was.  Even now, when buying street food or delivery food maybe 40% of the time it is served in cardboard containers rather than plastic.  So, again, the Thais are adapting.

Change is happening.  Years too late, but at least it is happening now.

 

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Wish i could be so optimistic. Yes carrier bag usage is down and some people carry reusable bags now, but some shops still put everything in a bag unless you stop them - even recently had a couple of 7-11's try to give me a bag. The big issue is all that street food like noodle soup dished out in small plastic bags,  that isn't going to stop overnight.

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On 9/24/2020 at 10:37 PM, josephbloggs said:

Even now, when buying street food or delivery food maybe 40% of the time it is served in cardboard containers rather than plastic.

While it's a nice start to reduce plastic bags and straws, to me the real pest is the millions of styrofoam containers for take away.

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