Wading through the lucrative wasteland
When a garbage truck pulls in at tambon Parai landfill, 20-year-old Rot Tha and a dozen fellow Cambodians rush to see what it has brought.
- Published: 27/01/2013 at 12:00 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
STOMPING GROUND: A worker walks through a rubbish dump in tambon Parai of Sa Kaeo’s Aranyaprathet district. Unwanted items from Rong Kluea market are dumped here. Photo by Patipat Janthong.
The truck has arrived from nearby Rong Kluea market.
Discarded goods, bottles, food packaging and other rubbish are tipped from the truck on to the dusty ground. The air is acrid with smoke from rubbish burning nearby and the smell of decomposing waste.
But among the general waste is also a massive quantity of second hand clothing that was discarded by market vendors. The sprawling Rong Kluea market, not far from the Thai-Cambodian border, sells vast amounts of second hand clothing and apparel, much of which has been donated to charities abroad and sold on, via wholesale rag houses, to Thai merchants.
So much stock goes through the market that vendors simply cherry-pick the best of it, and throw away what they cannot sell.
"I pick out clothes from the rubbish to wear," Rot Tha says as he rummages through the garbage heaps.
"I can get new clothes for free whenever a garbage truck arrives."
Rot Tha also burns some items of clothing and rubbish bags to remove any metal parts, which he then sells to Cambodian merchants to earn a meagre living.
BIG BUSINESS: Used shoes stalls at Rong Kluea market. Photot by Patipat Janthong.
But before the clothes are dumped at the landfill site, they have gone on a long and murky journey through the hands of donors around the world, smugglers and second-hand goods merchants.
According to the Customs Department, more than 23,800 tonnes of used commodities, worth about 1.32 billion baht, were imported into Thailand between January and November last year.
Laem Chabang port in Chon Buri province, not far from the Cambodian border, was the main point of entry.
The used goods, mostly from Japan, the United States and Mexico, are transported to second-hand markets across the country.
One of the largest of those markets is Rong Kluea.
But along with generating income for merchants, the used goods trade also causes waste and pollution problems in Aranyaprathet's Muang district and tambon Parai of the province's district, where Rong Kluea market is located.
For some, like Rot Tha, the discarded goods are a lifeline. But local authorities are struggling to deal with what they say is a growing waste management problem.
The 66 rai Rong Kluea market comprises at least three sub-markets, most of which are owned by private firms and also partly by the Sa Kaeo provincial administration organisation (PAO).
Kitisak Promwinit, president of the Parai tambon administrative organisation (TAO), said about 20 tonnes of waste from just one part of Rong Kluea market alone are taken to the Parai landfill each day. About 10 tonnes of that are shoes, and another tonne is unwanted clothes, bags and dolls.
The rest is rubbish from shoppers and vendors at the market, Mr Kitisak said. With more warehouses and shop complexes under construction at the market, the amount of goods coming in _ and thus the amount of goods being discarded in the landfill _ will only increase, he said.
Parai TAO and Sa Kaeo PAO jointly manage waste from the market.
Songyos Tiantong, president of Sa Kaeo PAO, is worried about the impact that more rubbish will have on an already overburdened landfill site. He says there are already environmental and hygiene problems as well as land use conflicts that have arisen due to the expansion of garbage landfill sites in the locality.
The province doesn't have a garbage incinerator as it lacks the budget to build and operate one, he said.
''Landfill expansion has often caused conflicts over land use,'' Mr Songyos said. ''And at this rate, we will only need more land in the future.''
Last week, locals complained to the media over environmental problems stemming from the so-called ''used shoe graveyard'', a five-rai plot filled with thousands of discarded shoes close to the border market.
This prompted the Senate's environmental panel and the Department of Special Investigation to launch separate investigations into the dumping of unwanted second-hand goods.
The shoe landfill site is privately owned. Owner Maitree Ruechamanee told the Bangkok Post Sunday that the shoes dumped at the site were mostly in small sizes, for which there is little demand at the market.
But they won't be left where they are. The shoes dumped on Mr Maitree's landfill will be crushed and sold to industrial operators which use them as fuel, he says. ''I can make more than one million baht from these shoes.
''It's not junk for me.''
WASTE NOT, WANT NOT: Rong Kluea market is the centre of the second-hand goods business. Once the used items, such as clothes, shoes, and bags, arrive at the market, vendors sort them out. Items that can’t be sold go to a landfill, while better quality items will be sold. Sometimes, poor Cambodians scavenge at the dump for items for their own use. Photos by Patipat Janthong.
About the author
- Writer: Paritta Wangkiat