Drowning in plastic
Last January, Thailand kicked off the year and a new decade with the ban on single-use plastic bags, initially adopted by department and convenience stores as well as some other retailers, who would no longer provide customers with the plastic bags in order to lessen the environmental impact.
The "Every Day Say No To Plastic Bags" campaign encouraged consumers to live without the most beautiful thing that fictional character Ricky Fitts filmed -- referring to the discarded plastic bag dancing in the wind from a classic scene in American Beauty.
That movie was released in 1999 when plastic pollution wasn't as much a serious issue as it is today.
In 2018, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a campaign to raise awareness that our planet is drowning in plastic pollution. It estimated that if we continue at the rate we are going, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050.
The convenience of dumping used plastic bags and other plastic items takes a toll on the environment.
Even when disposed of properly, a huge amount of plastic waste leaks into the environment and finds its way into the waterways and seas.
The ban on single-use plastic bags was the first step of the country's long-term plastic waste management plan, which will include measures to stop using other items such as cap seals, plastic cups and straws as well as polystyrene food containers.
The ban was accompanied by hilarious alternatives as lighthearted Thais, instead of using cloth bags, loaded up suitcases, wheelbarrows, traffic cones, and traditional earthenware water jars with their groceries.
When consumers became accustomed to the plastic bag-free lifestyle, physical shopping was restricted due the lockdown, following the Covid-19 pandemic.
While social distancing and staying at home, they didn't miss out on the shopping though as online stores were open 24/7.
Before the unprecedented global health service, I wasn't into virtual shopping at all.
Then it became the "new normal" for the postman to deliver a parcel or two almost every day to my house.
He even notes that I have surpassed my Gen-Z niece in the number of parcels.
The deliveries generated piles of small ziplock plastic bags, bubble wrap, packaging tape and delivery boxes at my house.
Unboxing, instead of being fun, was a frustration due to the thorough taping of the boxes and the protective bubble wrap.
Likewise, it also took time to remove the excessive transparent tape used for the bubble wrap.
Due to online shopping, I have tonnes of the reusable pliable transparent plastic material. We can drop off PET plastic bottles and cartons for recycling, and do the same with the bubble wrap.
Mailing and shipping as well as other businesses can launch campaigns to accept them for reuse.
The packaging tape, however, is a concern as they become sticky trash. Used to seal cardboard boxes, the adhesive tapes also cause problems in paper recycling.
Recyclable adhesive tapes such as those made from paper or cellulose are preferred instead of the standard plastic tapes.
On the consumer side, I have become aware of how my retail therapy has immensely created packaging waste.
I took a picture of the pile and shared it with an online seller, and suggested to her that I would prefer picking up the purchase myself to minimise the waste.
Considering the mass of online shoppers, packaging waste management is a big issue, requiring some standards set for the small online sellers and big retailers.
In Nov 2019, the UNEP published the report "The Role Of Packaging Regulations And Standards In Driving The Circular Economy", which focuses on policy intervention and enforcement in addressing packaging waste, particularly from plastic packaging, in Asean nations.
That was before the Covid-19 changed our lives.
The pandemic had caused an increase in the plastic waste from the packaging of goods purchased online, not to mention those from the food-delivery services.
One year after the ban on single-use plastic bags, of which we thought we have made a small win in saving the environment, other forms of plastic pollution need to be further addressed.
In 2020, not only did I waste money on buying online, I disposed of so much waste and honestly feel guilty about it.
My New Year resolution, hence, is to "say no to cybershopping and halt the hoarding''.
Kanokporn Chanasongkram is a feature writer for Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Kanokporn Chanasongkram is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.