Most people know that old batteries, broken lightbulbs and electronic devices are hazardous waste, but many people still dump them in regular garbage bins. They all end up buried in landfills, polluting the environment and endangering human health.
Those concerns have led the Environment Department of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to stage a campaign to raise public awareness of the dangers of toxic wastes. It began last year by organising a hazardous waste exchange market at City Hall 2 in the Din Daeng area.
Even though it is the responsibility of the city to collect waste from households, the campaign was begun in the hope that people could be encouraged to separate waste on a daily basis.
``Hazardous waste is worthless, different from other stuff such as old bottles and cans that can be sold,'' explained Wanlaya Wattanarat, director of the Solid and Hazardous Waste and Nightsoil Management Division, a key official of the project.
A door-to-door approach is used to raise awareness among residents in the capital.
``But when we talk about health and environmental risks, it seems quite far removed from people's daily experience, and it takes a long time to show explicit effects,'' she said.
To get people's attention, she said, the BMA had to use some imaginative techniques. ``They will get what they have thrown away. If they bring old batteries to the market, they would get new batteries in return,'' she added.
The market also allows people who bring in hazardous goods to exchange them for new, less harmful products. For example, if they bring empty bottles of products such as nail polish, toilet cleaner or hair colouring to the market, they will get multi-purpose eco-friendly liquid cleaner to take home.
The market received a good response from people last year and the department held the event again in August. But the underlying message the BMA wants to send out is not about the market itself.
``The market is just a symbol to tell people about what goods are classified as hazardous waste that must be disposed of separately from normal waste,'' Ms Wanlaya said.
In addition, she said, people would come to learn that even old pens and expired medicines are also hazardous.
The campaign is now on the list of the CSR projects on environmental protection by the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion, an agency under the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.
Building on the success of the first stage of the campaign, city authorities fanned out to visit people in six communities in six different districts early this year to continue raising awareness about hazardous waste disposal and potential threats to health and the environment. They were Kannayao, Huai Khwang, Pathumwan, Chatuchak, Thawi Watthana and Phasi Charoen.
Ms Wanlaya said that each community would then design its own campaign and procedures for segregating and disposing of hazardous household materials.
This year, the department plans to campaign in six more communities.
Getting people actively involved at the community level is the key, she said. Otherwise, the campaigns will be a waste if people's sense of responsibility to society and the environment is not fostered.
The BMA has collected hazardous waste from households since 1997 free of charge. It classifies it into three categories: fluorescent lightbulbs, batteries and spray cans.
The collected hazardous wastes are taken to three transfer stations at On Nut, Nong Khaem and Sai Mai before being transported to the premises of General Environment Conservation in Phasi Charoen district for proper disposal.
Last year the BMA collected 84 tonnes of fluorescent bulbs, 21 tonnes of batteries and 268 tonnes of spray cans, totalling 373 tonnes or 1.02 tonnes a day, an increase from 0.79 tonnes a day in 2010 and 0.61 tonnes a day in 2009.
But the BMA estimates that an average of 25 tonnes a day of hazardous waste are generated, so there is still a long way to go before people stop throwing away dangerous goods along with their regular garbage.
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Writer: LAMPHAI INTATHEP