A col­lec­tive ef­fort is es­sen­tial in Thai­land’s bat­tle against plas­tic

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Thai­land is bid­ding to be­come a plas­tic-bag-free na­tion. As part of an agree­ment be­tween traders and the gov­ern­ment, on the 15th of each month, shop­pers will not be given any plas­tic bags at su­per­mar­kets, con­ve­nience stores or large malls. The aim to en­cour­age them to bring their own re­us­able bags.

The one-day mora­to­rium rep­re­sents a baby step on the road to the long-term sus­tain­able man­age­ment of waste in the coun­try, but even so, the ques­tion is whether it can achieve its goal, or will the idea sim­ply fall by the way­side, like so many pre­vi­ous ef­forts in this di­rec­tion.

The Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry con­vinced 15 ma­jor re­tail­ers to sign up for the no-plas­tic cam­paign the day af­ter Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-ocha de­clared im­proved waste man­age­ment a na­tional pri­or­ity. In a trial run on Aug. 15 the re­tail out­lets stopped pack­ing cus­tomers’ shop­ping in plas­tic bags. Doubt­less many shop­pers were an­noyed by the in­con­ve­nience, but plenty of oth­ers ex­pressed their sup­port by bring­ing their own bags.

Some re­tail­ers had un­der­taken their own “war on plas­tic” even be­fore the gov­ern­ment stepped in. Since 2008 the Cen­tral Group has been curb­ing its use of pa­per and plas­tic shop­ping bags, and man­aged to do so by 26.4 per­cent in the first year. Last year Cen­tral shop­pers took home 1.8 mil­lion fewer bags than the year be­fore, a drop of about 11 per­cent. Tesco Lo­tus has just cel­e­brated the first an­niver­sary of a pi­lot pro­ject at its Nawamin branch, where no plas­tic bags are avail­able.

It seems that re­tail giants are happy to en­gage in this bat­tle to cleanse the en­vi­ron­ment, con­sid­er­ing it a win-win con­cept for all con­cerned. In do­ing so they re­duce op­er­at­ing costs and at the same time earn a rep­u­ta­tion for ecofriend­li­ness.

But, un­til the ma­jor­ity of stores join the move­ment, the im­pact will re­main lim­ited. As long as the nobag pol­icy re­mains patchy, cus­tomers who pre­fer the con­ve­nience of hav­ing their good wrapped in plas­tic will pa­tron­ize out­lets where the ser­vice is of­fered.

Most of the early bird re­tail­ers have in­cen­tives to gain cus­tomers’ co­op­er­a­tion, thus help­ing to pop­u­lar­ize the cam­paign. Too many shop­pers, how­ever, still feel “en­ti­tled” to their plas­tic bags at check­out, in con­trast to Euro­pean na­tions where con­sumers refuse to ac­cept plas­tic bags when of­fered. The will­ing­ness and co­op­er­a­tion of shop­pers are ob­vi­ously the keys to this pol­icy’s suc­cess.

If ev­ery Thai shop­per used just one less bag each day, it would add up to 24.46 mil­lion bags per year. At present, Thai­land has to cope with 2.7 mil­lion tonnes of Sty­ro­foam and plas­tic waste ev­ery year. Cit­i­zens must be made aware that this moun­tain is cost­ing them more and more in taxes to man­age. Most sig­nif­i­cantly, the bur­geon­ing plas­tic de­tri­tus is threat­en­ing crit­i­cal eco­log­i­cal prob­lems.

One way of ad­dress­ing the prob­lem would be to em­brace a longert­erm ethos of sus­tain­able liv­ing. The “no-plas­tic” pol­icy should be more than “tem­po­rary pack­ag­ing,” so to speak. We need con­crete ac­tions, strong po­lit­i­cal will and col­lec­tive aware­ness if we’re to safe­guard the en­vi­ron­ment for the fu­ture. Only then can this baby step grow into a ma­ture re­spon­si­bil­ity. This is an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished by The Na­tion on Wed­nes­day, Aug. 26.

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