Policing plastic waste

Pimpan Diskul na Ayudhya is a development practitioner, who began her career with The Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage for two years. She furthered her studies at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, where she focused on international business relations and environmental policy.

She resumed working for the foundation until she became director of its Knowledge and Learning Center. Currently, the director of Thailand Responsible Business Network, the mother of three recently launched a new project called "song plastic klub ban"  (send plastic home,  fb.com/sendplastichome) to encourage people to recycle plastic waste and cultivate their mindset for a long-term circular economy.

What's the idea behind the Send Plastic Home initiative and how did it come about?

The global waste issue has been a crisis before the spread of Covid-19. We all have heard about animals found dead with plastic waste in their stomachs. This issue can be resolved with a circular economy. It's a concept of retrieving used materials such as plastic, glasses, paper and aluminium after consumer consumption and recycling or upcycling them into new products. These new products go back into the market and the cycle continues. This helps reduce the amount of waste in landfills or waste that ends up in nature. Recycling also reduces the extraction of more natural resources to make new products.

The pandemic has worsened the waste issue because it increases the use of single-use plastic mostly through home delivery. Garbage collectors also stopped separating waste for fear of being infected. The Pollution Control Department recently reported that the amount of plastic waste, especially plastic packaging, increased by 15% from 5,500 tonnes per day to 6,300 [because the demand for food delivery tripled].

Therefore, we started with a small campaign on Earth Day to encourage people to be part of the solution by proper disposing of plastic waste caused by food delivery. We encourage them to wash and dry plastic waste and put it in a separate bag. It has evolved into our pilot project of drop-off points for plastic waste to ensure that waste will be injected back into the cycle of the circular economy.

What does the project do?

Through the joint efforts between different agencies from the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment, organisations in the private sector, civic groups and others, we've introduced 10 drop-off points in Sukhumvit as our first experiment to 'send plastic home'. These drop-off points are gateways for consumers to connect with the cycle of recycling. Our media partners encourage people to leave their plastic waste at these points and recyclers take care of it from there. Our social enterprise partner has developed an application to motivate people to recycle plastic and collect data which is then analysed by our academic partner. Brand owners chime in by sponsoring drop points. They are key to creating circular economy in the long run. In short, various partners come together in the hope of creating a circular economy on a large scale in the future.

What do you think prevents recycling from taking root in Thailand?

Lack of a real push for a circular economy. To create such a system, it requires efforts from various stakeholders to work together towards the same goal, and benefits of all stakeholders -- big corporations to small individuals involved -- must be taken into account. The end goal got to be a win-win situation for any change to sustain. Consumer participation is very vital as they kickstart the cycle by separating waste. However, it'll take some time for this concept to take root but by expanding the community of people who believe in this mission, we stand a chance at establishing a circular economy.

Why did you choose Sukhumvit as the pilot area to launch the project?

Our target group is people who already separate waste but have stopped because of Covid-19 and those who want to do it but don't know where to leave it. We need them to lead. In Sukhumvit area, there are communities of expats who habitually separate waste. Also, because we receive permission from business owners to install our drop points in this area first.

How has the feedback been?

It has been positive. We've received an influx of opinions, compliments and recommendations through our Facebook page. Some people took photos of them leaving their plastic waste at our points. Some complained that there are people who drop general waste at our points and suggested we should make our sign clearer. Some asked if we would place more points in other areas and provinces. Some even offered to send their plastic waste through the mail. I find it very interesting that there are people who take the effort to clean plastic after use and store it at home until they can find a place that they can leave it and be sure that their plastic waste will be properly processed. Several Facebook pages and key opinion leaders also willingly have shared our page and spread our message. We've been contacted by many organisations, asking if they could be our new drop points.

(Photos: Send Plastic Home Project)

What do you want to say to people who think that separating their waste is futile because it would end up in a landfill?

If we properly separate our waste -- keep it clean, dry and in a bag -- we'll have a good start for our recycling process. Whether it's paper, glass or plastic, it won't be discarded haphazardly because properly separate waste has value for garbage collectors and recyclers. People at home should do their part in this recycling process and together we're going to create momentum in the society. Individuals need to adopt new behaviour while government and private agencies join forces to create a system that facilitates recycling until waste separation and circular economy become our new normal.

Visit fb.com/sendplastichome.