Return to sender: Thailand trying to ship back plastic waste

Officials at Thailand’s ports are attempting to ship over 2,000 containers filled with plastic and other types of waste back to the countries that sent them as part of efforts by the government and the Thai people to fight plastic pollution.

At the same time, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) announced its own campaign last week to reduce plastic use and refuse in partnership with local and international businesses in the tourism sector. The TAT campaign is representative of the growing awareness among Thais about plastic pollution and their increasing commitment to addressing the problem.

“The Industry Ministry and Customs Department will check the containers and send the illegal items back to their origin,” said Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources Surasak Karnjanarat.

Surasak said that 1,600 of the containers are sitting at Laem Chabang port on the Eastern Seaboard and 460 of them are at the port in Bangkok. Indications are that electronic waste, or e-waste, another prohibited category may be mixed in with the plastic, he added.

All countries are contributing to the problems of plastic and electronic waste. The dangers posed by plastic waste dumped into the oceans, however, have gained particular attention in recent months. One event that served to focus the public’s concern was the death of a pilot whale on a southern Thai shore in June.

The whale had swallowed over 80 plastic bags and could no longer consume food, resulting in the sea mammal starving to death. Since then, Thai policymakers and some leading corporations have been springing into action.

Last month, the government banned imports of plastic and e-waste. It had become a common practice for developed countries to ship that waste to less-developed nations rather than process it themselves using environmentally safe methods.

Last week Siam Piwat, Iconsiam, the Thai Hotels Association, the Tourism Council of Thailand and Expedia Group among others joined the Travel Thailand in Style, Reduce Plastic Waste campaign launched by the TAT.

“This collaboration is set to serve as a catalyst within Thailand’s travel and tourism sectors. These activities will instill a sense of environmental consciousness as well as encourage tourists to travel responsibly by leaving only footprints and taking only good memories,’’ TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn said.

“TAT will take a lead role. We will encourage consumption of reusable or sustainable items; such as, plant-based drinking straws instead of plastic straws, cotton bags instead of plastic bags, water tumblers instead of plastic bottles, and reusable food utensils instead of single-use plastic or foam items,” he said.