Would you like some plastic with your plastic?
Whether it’s your first trip to Thailand, or you have been here before, you are bound to notice the overuse of plastic in Thailand. Below are some simple tips and phrases you can use while traveling to help reduce the use.
Thailand, white sand, blue sea, coconuts, plastic bags? In a country that has everything, a package holiday tourist or a hostel staying backpacker could want lies a pesky inconvenient truth that both locals and tourists are contributing to, the overuse of plastic.
Plastic is a killer, being one of the modern world’s most convenient inventions, making bags and straws cheap and light, it also quickly biodegrade when thrown away and is rarely recycled. Polythene, the main ingredient in a polythene bag (obviously), takes over 1,000 years to decompose if left on land and 450 years if left in the water. While water may be less, the damage it does to the sea life is irreversible, as recent examples have shown. A pilot whale was found in the reign of Songkhla with over 80 plastic bags in its stomach, it had mistaken them for jellyfish and eventually killed itself eating them.
This is but one of hundreds of negative environmental effects caused by overusing plastic.
Why is there so much?
It’s been common in Thailand for years now to give plastic bags, wrappers, straws and any plastic utensils you can think of, out whenever you’re buying something from a convenience store, like 7/11 or Family Mart, or buying food from a street vendor. Traditionally it was considered hygienic and was used as a means of protecting food and drink from dirt and dust in the air. This care for hygiene slowly morphed into something unrecognizable. Now you’ll get double plastic bags for a plastic bottle of coke, plus your plastic straw with it’s very own plastic wrapper and no way to recycle any of it.
Experts have worked out that on average, each person in Thailand uses 8 plastic bags per day. Bangkok itself contributing hugely to that statistic as it uses 600,000 plastic bags (roughly 1,800 tonnes) per day.
How you can help reduce plastic use
Most of us, be us backpackers, travelers, 2-week vacationers, locals, expats, just all around normal people, want to do something to help fight this growing problem before it’s too late. If we all lowered out plastic intake we can dramatically reduce the amount of plastic used each year in Thailand.
Step 1: Reusable cups
A lot of cafe chains have been introducing this one recently, but it doesn’t just go for coffee. Using reusable water bottles & coffee cups is a great way to start lowering your plastic use. Look for them in all major supermarkets or cafes. If you are backpacking, bring your own from home. These will also come in handy for day trips and excursions during your travels.
Step 2: Refuse plastic
When popping into your favorite convenience store (we’ll leave the 7/11 vs Family Mart debate for another article) say ‘no’ to plastic bags and straws at the checkout. Here are some simple phonetic phrases to get you started.
No bag, please = Mai tung, khrup/ka
No straw, please = Mai ao lawd, khrup/ka.
(remember your ‘khrup’s and your ‘ka’s boys and girls)
Step 3: Look for a recycling center
While recycling is hard in Thailand, it’s not impossible. You can find recycling centers which you have to take your own plastic too. Build up a collection of recyclable plastic in your house, then drive over to the center to drop it off once per month. They’ll often pay you per kg, too. Sometimes, some local people will collect plastic out of the trash or by donation, to make money off of it, so ask a Thai neighbor if they know anyone around the neighborhood who has their plastic collection if you want to help. If you’re a backpacker or resort tourist, ask your hotel or reception where they put their recycling.
Plastic is a wonderful modern invention that changed the shape of our world, we can’t take away the importance of the material and must value it’s contribution to our lives. But understanding the impact that dumped plastic has on the environment is a must and is the first step in becoming a responsible plastic user. If we all do our part, no matter how little, we can help keep Thailand the beautiful tropical country we’ve all come to know and love.