The perils of plastic
Last week, I visited Wat Chak Daeng in the Phra Pradaeng district of Samut Prakan to make merit. Instead of donating cash, food or monk robes, I donated paper boxes, UHT (ultra-high temperature) boxes and a big bag fully loaded with single-use plastic bags that I had collected for two months.
You may know the temple because it made headlines recently. The temple launched the world's first saffron robes made from recycled plastic bottles. The project was initiated by Phra Maha Pranom Dhammalangkaro, the temple's acting abbot, with the support of PTT GC. The aim is to boost people's awareness of recycling, said the monk.
A 2m-long monk's robe needs 15 bottles of 600ml. People, media and organisations from near and far visited the temple during the past three months to know how the robes are created and to touch the textiles. The texture is soft.
Although the temple has welcomed many visitors daily and has also opened a school for monks, the temple grounds are tidy. You can't find litter on the ground nor stray dogs and cats. The public toilets are as clean as a hotel's.
A row of garbage bins has clear signs for visitors to separate things they want to throw away into the right containers.
"If everyone separates their garbage, it can dramatically reduce the amount of trash, because most of it can be recycled," he said.
Thailand creates about 2 million tonnes of plastic waste per year, or about 12% of the country's total, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. Only 20% of that plastic trash can be recycled, while 78.5%, or 1.5 million tonnes, of that waste can't, and about 30,000 tonnes (1.5%) ends up in the sea.
Of 1.5 million tonnes of plastic waste, single-use plastic bags account for 82% of the waste or 1.17 million tonnes, followed by plastic boxes, cups and foam (12%, or 170,000 tonnes), plastic bottles (4%, or 50,000 tonnes), plastic knives, spoons and forks (1%, or 20,000 tonnes) and plastic straws and caps (which share the same 0.6%, or 10,000 tonnes, each).
For our convenience, we use and throw away single-use plastics daily on items like packaged snacks or food. We also receive plastic bags when we buy vegetables, fruits and raw meat, although we already say no to plastic shopping bags. Many coffee shops, ice-cream shops or fast-food chain outlets serve food and drinks with plastic utensils for dine-in and takeaway. Even if you say no to plastic straws or bring your own cup for a shot of Espresso, desserts are placed in plastic containers.
The government spends billions of baht in garbage management, yet plastic trash still pollutes our canals, rivers, beaches and the sea.
Recently, Wat Chak Daeng had a river-cleaning day. The temple, located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River in the Bang Krachao area, has two boats to collect floating garbage. Within two hours, they collected 2 tonnes of trash from the river.
"People need to have more awareness that things they throw away can end up in the sea even though they already put their trash in a bin. The better way is to make the most use of them. If they can be recycled, then separate and clean them. They can donate them to our temple. We even have a pickup service if requested," said the monk.
The temple has a recycling facility, where it can sort out donated garbage and convert it into something useful. PET bottles and other plastic bottles are turned into textiles. Single-use plastic bags that people give to monks every day during morning alms offerings are washed and hung to dry before being used as a material for producing fuel.
Unwanted papers and glass bottles can be sold for recycling. UHT boxes are reused to make not only roofing sheets but also a monk's living quarters. The first model house totally made of UHT boxes has been completed and the second version will be introduced soon. Organic trash like leftover food and dry leaves are collected for making fertiliser. Phra Maha Pranom also has a plan to produce electricity from food trash in the future.
The temple also accepts foam food containers and also has toxic bins for people to drop their dead alkaline batteries and broken fluorescent tube lights.
"People should realise that things they don't want still have value. They should not just trash them away," he said.
In the past I, like many people, threw those plastic bags in a trash bin. But nowadays, I wash them even though it is oily or smelly like a plastic package of sliced fresh fish or shrimp. I make sure that every bag is clean before drying them and keeping them in a separate container alongside bags for recycled papers, glass bottles and plastic bottles.
Some of my friends also do the same. A friend in Chiang Mai even mails single-use plastic bags she has cleaned to a private company in Nakhon Pathom because it can recycle the bags. Every little action has an impact on our world. It is not yet too late to reduce, reuse and recycle your disposal plastics.
Karnjana Karnjanatawe is a travel writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Karnjana Karnjanatawe is a travel writer for Life section.