Time to tackle plastic

Time to tackle plastic

On-line: In this file photo taken on June 8, 2019, a child swims in a pool filled with plastic bottles during an awareness campaign to mark the World Oceans Day in Bangkok. (Photo by Romeo GACAD / AFP)
On-line: In this file photo taken on June 8, 2019, a child swims in a pool filled with plastic bottles during an awareness campaign to mark the World Oceans Day in Bangkok. (Photo by Romeo GACAD / AFP)

As the world's attention remains focused on the war between Russia and Ukraine, more than 100 nations are convening in Kenya this week to wage their own war -- against plastic waste. Delegates -- including those from Thailand are expected to take the first steps toward establishing a historic global framework for a legally binding plastic treaty -- touted to be the most ambitious environmental pact since the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. The move is vital if it's not already too late as plastic continues to snarl up the worlds waterways and contaminate the food chain.

According to the United Nations' Environment Programme (Unep), one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute globally, while up to five trillion are used worldwide every year. Half of these are recycled, while the rest end up in landfills or are discarded into canals, waterways and city tributaries which ultimately end flow out into the ocean.

The situation is no less worrying in Thailand even though the current government has laid out its "Roadmap on Plastic Waste Management" a 20-year masterplan spanning 2018-2037 with a goal of achieving net zero waste at the end.

The blueprint calls for a scaled-up action plan and includes the ban on single-use plastics, straws and styrene foam-based food containers that came into force on Jan 1. On a macro level, the masterplan aims to create a recycling industry to accommodate its ambition of achieving a Bio-Circular Green Economy (BCG).

But the Thai example shows that it is easier to write policy than put it into practice.

In 2020, Thais produced a mountain of disposed-of plastic -- 700,000 tonnes of polystyrene-based food containers; 1.72 million tonnes of plastic cups and straws; and 1.17 million tonnes of plastic bags in all. Shockingly, while Thais consume 100 million plastic straws a day, the kingdom's recycling rate is only 25%.

That is because the policy has not gone far enough and does not cast its net wide enough to trigger behavioural change. An initiative to tax packaging materials made of glass, aluminium, and paper and plastic packaging has gone nowhere after being floated 20 years ago by the Pollution Control Department and the Finance Ministry. Change then could have saved great expense now.

As a result, Thailand's waste management remains reliant on incineration and landfills. For example, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) is reported to spend seven billion baht each year on waste disposal yet only 10-50 million baht on efforts to recycle it.

In terms of the much-touted "Roadmap on Plastic Waste Management", the ban that came into effect on Jan 1 has yet to show any encouraging signs. Few people know of it, while the responsible agency has not been active in enforcing the policy either.

Meanwhile, the government has drawn criticism for its promotion of an industry based around recycling imported waste while leaving the local traders in recycled materials, and the scavengers, known as saleng, pitched into a price war with boatloads of cheap incomparably cheap waste from abroad.

These hurdles show the war against plastic waste will be an uphill task. While delegates in Nairobi this week will do the planet a great service if they can hammer out a much-needed global framework, to achieve this goal, political commitment and courage from governments is needed to eschew the financial rewards of pandering to big business in favour of a sustainable approach that will only reap dividends in the long run.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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