Thais reject plastics on Environment Day

The people and businesses of Thailand marked Thai Environment Day last week by refusing plastic bags and cleaning up beaches, parks and public spaces as academics said small changes in behavior and proper policy support from government could make a significant difference in reducing pollution and protecting the environment.

Department stores, supermarkets and convenience stores across the country made Thai Environment Day a “no plastic bags day,” with signs posted alerting customers that cashiers would not be providing plastic bags and educating them about the problem of plastic waste. People could purchase cloth bags or bring their own.

On the resort island of Phuket, hundreds of locals and some tourists descended on Karon Beach, one of the longest and most popular on the island, to scoop up discarded plastic bags, bottles, utensils and other items that have been despoiling many of the country’s once pristine white-sand beaches.

Although World Environment Day is in June, Thailand has observed Thai Environment Day on December 4 since 1991. At the time, Thailand was experiencing its first industrial boom, and civil society groups and government were beginning to be aware of the environmental costs of rapid development.

In those days, most attention was focused on the dangers posed by air pollution in big cities, industrial runoff in waterways, and increasing deforestation. Public and government awareness about plastic pollution is a more recent phenomenon. It gained national attention in June when a pilot whale washed up and died on a beach in southern Thailand because it had consumed over 80 plastic bags around the region while swimming in the oceans.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Surasak Karnjanarat called plastic pollution one of the biggest problems facing the Kingdom. Studies have shown that Thais discard over 45 billion single-use plastic bags every year, which equals roughly 12 percent of all household waste nationwide. Thailand produces about 2 million tons of plastic waste in one year.

While the government has been putting more green policies in place, officials and academics agreed that changes in public behavior are just as important to tackle the problem.

“People usually think that giving up the use of plastic bags and adopting a low-waste lifestyle is too radical. But from my experience, I can say that there are many easy ways that urbanites like us can avoid producing unnecessary waste,” Jiaranai Vithidkul, a Ph.D. student at Chulalongkorn University told The Nation newspaper.

“I admit that plastic makes our lives much easier and provides convenience. As we have got used to this convenience for quite a long time, it has made us feel that we cannot do without plastic, even though before the invention of plastic we could live perfectly well without it,” Jiaranai said.

Professor Pracha Khunnathamdee, a lecturer at Thammasat Faculty  of Economics, said that governmentsupport for biodegradable plastics and alternative materials for packaging are also necessary.

Development of green and biomaterials is a supported and promoted industry under Thailand 4.0, the country’s 20-year national strategy to create a greener, more advanced society and economy.