Thai-American 12-year-old leading fight against plastic waste

The West has Greta, while Thailand has Lilly. Twelve-year-old Thai-American student Lilly Satidtanasarn has convinced big businesses in the Kingdom to reduce their plastic waste, raised local awareness, and is getting regional media attention for her campaign to protect the environment.

“I am a kid at war,” Lilly told AFP news agency. “I try to stay optimistic, but I am also angry, our world is disappearing.”

Every day Lilly spends an hour picking up cans, plastic waste, and bottles in a Bangkok canal. The odds against her are enormous. On average, 3,000 single-use plastic bags are used per year.

As chair country of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2019, Thailand did rally its neighbors to sign an agreement to reduce marine debris. It is a promising start and more needs to be done.

Despite the odds, Lilly has begun winning some battles. In June, she persuaded Central, the largest retailer in Thailand, to stop handing out plastic bags in its stores once a week. Last week, 25 other retailers, department stores, supermarkets, and manufacturers came on board, pledging to completely stop giving out single-use plastic bags starting early next year.

Lilly began her campaign four years ago at the age of eight after a beach vacation when she was shocked to see the white sands covered in garbage and plastic waste.

“My parents and I cleaned it up, but that was not helpful because other waste was thrown out to sea the next day,” she said.

Lilly credits 16-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden with giving her more confidence to pursue her cause. Lilly has taken part in cleanups and spoken at the United Nations.

“You might be able to tune out all of the evidence and advocacy in the world, but it’s very hard to ignore a child when they ask why we’re trashing the planet that they have to live on,” said Kakuko Nagatani-Yoshida, regional coordinator for chemicals, waste and air quality with United Nations Environment Programme (UNDP).

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