Trash heroes

Trash heroes

Every Monday is a special day on Satun's Koh Lipe island. It's the day when everyone, locals or visitors, can call themselves a "trash hero" for joining in a remarkably successful campaign to keep the area clean.

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The Trash Hero garbage clean-up campaign originated in Koh Lipe. Photos by Jetjaras Na Ranong

Trash heroes

Anchalee Kongrut

Every Monday is a special day on Koh Lipe, a sandy, breathtaking and increasingly touristy Andaman island off Satun province. It's the day when everyone, locals or visitors, can call themselves a hero.

Since December 2013, Monday has been designated as the day of the "Trash Hero", when a big clean-up of Koh Lipe, including other small islets in Moo Koh Adang Rawi in Tarutao National Marine Park, takes place with the participation of locals and tourists. Fifteen months after the campaign began, it is estimated over 50 tonnes of garbage have been removed. "Trash Hero" won The Thailand Green Excellence Awards UK in November 2014. The campaign has gradually become an inspiration for other tourist spots in Thailand, and even Indonesia.

Volunteers collecting garbage from an island at Tarutao Marine National Park.

"Anyone can be a 'Trash Hero'. There is no cost, no sign-up. All you need to do is just show up," said Jirawat Somboon, one of the campaign organisers.

Anyone who sets foot on Koh Lipe can feel the enthusiasm. On the ferry which runs from the mainland, or in some restaurants and hotels, there are leaflets inviting visitors to join the Monday trash collecting event. Come the day, there is a community spirit where everyone — Thai and foreign — lends a hand.

In the early days, there were only a few participantspioneers Roman Peter, Nirut Chochuang, Jirawat and Darius Vikili, a Swiss man who's married to a Thai lady and ran a beach cafe for over a decade. But word got around, and from that humble start, now Trash Hero mobilises over 2,000 volunteers from about 20 countries almost every Monday during peak season. After seeing the commitment of the team, hotels and restaurants on the island helped sponsor the campaign by providing long tail boats, drinking water, food and related facilities.

Darius Vikili, third left, Roman Peter, fourth left, and Jirawat Somboon, second right.

"The Monday clean-up campaign is seriously obeyed by everyone. But even if there are only two people who turn up, the show must go on," said Jirawat.

Except when the weather turns really bad, anyone who wants to be a Trash Hero can meet at 10am on Monday at Pattaya Beach. When we visited the place recently, a small group of visitors were waiting at the meeting point. Most of these volunteers were tourists who had joined the campaign for the first time. Soon, long tail boats arrived to pick them up and carry them past dots of splendid small islands in Tarutao National Marine Park. The boats stopped at the stunning Ao Luek Bay in Koh Rawi, a small island near Lipe (on other Mondays, the boats go to other bays, coves and beaches for the clean-up).

Garbage is hauled back to the mainland and sent for recycling.

At first glance, the quiet Ao Luek Bay is idyllic. But locals know that the serene cove, as designed by nature, is actually a site where rubbish washes up. Every day, the waves carry a large amount of garbage to this particular beach, and it has got worse since the tsunami in 2004. As of last May, volunteers have collected from this beach 80,000 flip-flops, 61,500 plastic bottles, 16,000 plastic lighters, 18,800 glass bottles, 200 cubic metres of styrofoam and 3 tonnes of non-recyclable waste. This trash is truly international: 60% is washed up from Malaysia, India and Myanmar.

Part of the 61,500 plastic bottles that had been collected by last May.

Most reusable trash is recycled. For example, 80,000 flips-flops in May were sent to the rubber-recycling project at Prince Songkhla University in Pattani. Plastic lighters were sent to an artist on Koh Lanta in Krabi, where they were turned into lamps and art objects. Bottles were sold to recycling factories. Non-recyclable trash is sent to a municipal waste disposal site.

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  • bay: a part of the coast where the land curves in so that the sea is surrounded by land on three sides - อ่าว
  • breathtaking: extremely impressive or beautiful - งดงามตระการตา
  • campaign: a series of actions intended to produce political or social change - การรณรงค์
  • commitment: willing to give your time and energy to something that you believe in; a promise or firm decision to do something - การให้คำมั่นสัญญา, การให้คำมั่น, การมอบความไว้วางใจ
  • community spirit (idiom): (of a group of people) a feeling togetherness; a feeling of wanting to work together to achieve something -
  • cove (noun): a small bay (= an area of sea that is partly surrounded by land) - ส่วนเว้าเล็ก ๆ เข้าแนวชายฝั่งของทะเล
  • cubic metre: the volume of a cube with edges one metre in length - ลูกบาศก์เมตร
  • decade: a period of ten years - ทศวรรษ
  • designated: formally chosen - แต่งตั้ง
  • disposal (noun): getting rid of something, by selling it or throwing it away - การกำจัด
  • enthusiasm: the feeling of being very interested in something or excited by it - ความกระตือรือร้น
  • estimated: thought to be a particular amount, size, etc. based on a guess or the best information available - ประมาณการ
  • excellence: the quality of being extremely good - ความเป็นเลิศ
  • facility (noun): a building, equipment, etc., used for a particular purpose - โรงงาน, สถานบริการ, สิ่งก่อสร้าง, สิ่งอำนวยความสะดวก
  • ferry: a boat for taking passengers across an area of water, especially as a regular service - เรือรับส่งข้ามฟาก
  • flip-flops: a pair of sandals (= open shoe) that has a piece of leather, etc. that goes between the big toe and the toe next to it on each shoe - รองเท้าแตะ
  • glance: to look quickly at something/somebody - แวบมอง, ชายตามอง, เหลือบดู
  • gradually: slowly and in small stages or amounts - อย่างทีละน้อย
  • haul: to pull something heavy slowly and with difficulty - ลาก
  • humble: not large or special - ต่ำต้อย
  • idyllic (adj): peaceful and beautiful; perfect, without problems - งดงามตามธรรมชาติแบบชนบท
  • inspiration: someone or something that gives you new ideas or enthusiasm to do something - แรงบันดาลใจ
  • islet (noun): a very small island - เกาะแก่งเล็กๆ
  • leaflet: a piece of paper which gives you information or advertises something - ใบปลิว
  • lend a hand (idiom): to give help - เกื้อหนุน
  • lighter (noun): a small device that produces a flame for lighting cigarettes, etc. - ไฟแช็ก
  • locals: people who live in a particular place - ชาวบ้าน
  • mainland: a large mass of land that forms the main part of a country but does not include any islands belonging to the country - แผ่นดินใหญ่
  • mobilise: to bring together for a particular purpose - ระดมพล
  • municipal: of a town, city or district with its own local government - เทศบาล
  • obey: to do what you are told or expected to do - เชื่อฟัง, ทำตามคำสั่ง
  • originate: to come from a particular place, time, situation, etc - มาจาก, ริเริ่มจาก
  • participant: someone who takes part in something - ผู้เข้าร่วม
  • participation: to take part in or become involved in an activity - การมีส่วน
  • peak season (noun): the time of the year when an activity is at its highest point, especially tourism - ช่วงเวลาที่หนาแน่น
  • pioneer: a person who is the first to study and develop a particular area of knowledge, culture, etc. that other people then continue to develop; one of the first people to go to a particular area in order to live and work there - นักบุกเบิก, ผู้บุกเบิก
  • recyclable: the parts and materials can be used again to make new things after the thing is used and thrown away -
  • reusable (adj): that can be used again - นำกลับมาใช้ได้อีก
  • rubbish: waste material or things that are no longer wanted or needed - ขยะ
  • serene: calm, peaceful - สงบนิ่ง
  • set foot (verb): to enter or visit a place - เดินทางเข้าไป, เข้าไปอยู่
  • show up: to arrive at a place - แสดงตัว, ปรากฏตัว
  • site: a place where something is located - สถานที่
  • sponsor: to support a person, organization or activity by giving money, encouragement or other help - อุปถัมภ์, สนับสนุน
  • stunning: extremely beautiful or attractive - น่าทึ่ง
  • styrofoam (noun): polystyrene; a very light soft plastic that is usually white, used especially for making containers that prevent heat loss - สารโพลิเมอร์ชนิดหนึ่ง ใช้ในการทำโฟม หรือ กล่องบรรจุอาหาร
  • the show must go on (idiom): an activity must continue despite difficulties -
  • trash: things that you throw away because you no longer want or need them - ขยะ
  • volunteer (noun): someone who is not paid for the work that they do; someone who does something willingly without being required to - อาสาสมัคร

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