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Sunday, August 18, 2019
Lynette Lee Corporal
BANGKOK, Jun 27 2010 (IPS) - Buy a hairpin and the sales clerk has a microscopic plastic bag for it. A soda purchase from a corner store may end up having the liquid poured into a plastic bag, and then topped off with a plastic straw. There is no plastic bag yet that could fit a car, but if there was one country that could come up with one, Thailand would probably be it.
But here in the capital, local authorities have restarted a campaign to wean the residents of the Thai capital from their plastic bag ‘addiction’.
For the second year in a row, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) is holding its 45-day ‘No Bag, No Baht’ project, which offers consumers a one-baht (three U.S. cents) discount for every 100 baht (nearly three dollars) purchase if they use their own cloth bags when shopping in several local markets. Meanwhile, each plastic bag will cost them one baht.
This year’s BMA campaign was launched on Jun. 5, World Environment Day. Last year, the campaign targeted a cutback of 4.4 million plastic bags among Bangkok consumers. This year, BMA authorities want a cutback that is three times that figure.
BMA figures show that every day, more than 600,000 plastic bags are used in this city of nine million people.
Their annual disposal cost reaches more than 600 million baht (18.4 million dollars), city officials have said. Local media have quoted BMA deputy governor Porntep Techapaibul as saying that of the city’s daily 10,000 tonnes of trash, about 1,800 tonnes are plastic bags, a number projected to increase by about 20 percent each year.
But even green-minded residents have problems avoiding the use of plastic bags. Thai Fund Foundation coordinator Chomphu Rammuang says that although she brings a big cloth bag to the supermarket and a lunch pack to work, she can still wind up with a plastic bag in hand by day’s end.
Thailand, after all, is a major manufacturer of plastic. That could help explain why even micro-entrepreneurs here think nothing of shoving their merchandise in plastic bags.
For instance, Yakult health drink vendor Suprathit says that a 100-piece pack of small plastic bags costs her only five baht (15 cents). Pusadee, who sells office lunches in clear plastic bags, also says she buys a kilo of these for 70 baht (two dollars). She says a kilo’s supply lasts her two days.
Thailand produces other plastic products. According to Greenpeace South- east Asia-Thailand country representative Tara Buakamsri, the country is among South-east Asia’s biggest manufacturers of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is the third most widely produced plastic after polythylene and polypropylene.
Cheap, durable and easy to assemble, it is often used to make pipes, water bottles, credit cards. It is also non-biodegradable.
In April, the English-language daily ‘Bangkok Post’ reported that domestic demand for PVC is about 450,000 tonnes per year.
A study presented in 2009 by Wuthichai Wongthatsanekorn at the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology in Dubai, says that the recovery rate of plastic waste in Thailand in 2000 was only 23 percent.
It also says that only about 35 percent of the solid wastes collected from parts of Thailand outside of Bangkok are properly managed, while the rest of the waste products are “piled up in open dumping areas waiting to be dissolved.”
For a campaign to be effective, Tara says, consumers have to be aware of the importance and the long-term effect of the scheme.
“We need to study what economic mechanism will work if plastic bags are banned in Thailand,” he says. “What would be the reaction of the huge plastic industry in the country? What will be the economic incentive for people to follow this campaign?”
The good news, though, is that many establishments like supermarket chain Tesco Lotus and furniture store Home Pro are open to taking part in the BMA project. In fact, even before the ‘No Bag, No Baht’ project was relaunched, Tesco Lotus already had its very own ‘Green Bag Green Point’ campaign. For each bag saved, a customer can earn one Green Clubcard point.
Tesco Lotus senior corporate affairs manager Saofang Ekaluckrujee told IPS in an email interview, “We are very pleased to see policymakers such as the BMA making this issue a national priority. Our Green Bag Green Point scheme’s initial target is to reduce plastic bag usage by 9.8 million bags in 2010.” Other huge shopping malls like Siam Paragon and Central also give incentives like bonus shopper points for not using their bags – plastic or paper ones for that matter – or a 5 percent discount at certain times of the month.
Even small businesses are joining in. During the BMA campaign’s soft relaunch in May, than 5,000 stores in Bangkok’s famous Chatuchak weekend market participated.
Chomphu also reports that her monthly visits to the Chatuchak weekend market have become a pleasant experience, plastic bag-wise. “The vegetarian store near Chatuchak that I go to is actively participating in the project,” she says. “Buyers are encouraged to bring their own bags.”
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