Thailand will tackle hi-tech waste

Even a green economy produces garbage, and the Thai government is getting ahead of that problem by starting work on a plan to develop recycling facilities for discarded solar panels and used batteries from electric vehicles.

“Thailand is encouraging people and companies to use renewable power and drive electric vehicles, but it has yet to plan for a retreatment and management program for this kind of industrial waste,” said Pasu Loharjun, permanent secretary of the Industry Ministry.

That is about to change, however, as last week the government tasked three ministries – Industry, Energy, and Transport – with drafting a plan and overseeing the construction and operation of facilities for recycling discarded solar equipment and lithium batteries.

Thailand has implemented investment incentives for electric vehicle production and has set ambitious targets to source more renewable energy. The Kingdom is already the largest producer of solar power in Southeast Asia.

As part of its 20-year national strategy for advanced development called Thailand 4.0, the government is determined to build a greener economy. That includes adherence to principles of the circular economy: reduce, reuse, and recycle.

The government agreed last week to use money from the $47 million Energy Conservation Fund for the new plan. Pasu was not prepared, however, to specify a budget for the project.

“Thailand generates roughly 30 million tons of general and hazardous waste per year,” he said. “Some 3 million tons of this volume is hazardous waste that could be managed by landfill facilities, so the government aims to turn these landfill locations into energy resources.”

Following China’s ban last year of imports of many types of hazardous waste, Thailand found itself on the receiving end of increasing numbers of shipments of that kind of garbage.

In response, last year the government imposed its own ban on the import of electronic waste, plastic waste, and other hazardous waste. Public awareness has been rising about the toll that waste has been taking on the Kingdom’s environment and people have been demanding action.

Pasu said that officials from the three ministries are enthusiastic about the national strategy and are on board with promoting electric vehicles, energy storage systems, and a national power grid.

A by-product of that brand of development, however, will be tons of electronic and hazardous waste that will need to be appropriately treated and hopefully reused or recycled.

“We are collecting related data to draw up the retreatment and management plan,” Pasu said.