Tackling our plastic waste woes

Tackling our plastic waste woes

Today, most of the products and packaging in our local market are designed to be "disposable", with little or no concern for environmental impacts and any negative influences on human health.

Yet such waste is rarely recycled and barely managed in a sustainable manner.

But in many countries, the policy of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is used to address this concern.

EPR emphasises the entire lifecycle of a product and encourages packaging manufacturers to keep resources in the loop as long as possible through product and packaging stewardship.

Before we dive into the concept of EPR, let me ask the question -- are you aware that we all fail to tackle plastic waste in Thailand?

According to the Pollution Control Department (PCD), Thailand has been ranked among the top ten worst marine plastic debris polluters in the world.

In Thailand, we generate around 2 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, but we manage to recycle only 25% of such waste.

Some researchers pointed out that by 2050, plastic waste in the ocean will outnumber fish in the oceans.

It's time for us to seriously rethink effective and sustainable ways to tackle this pollution problem.

To begin, let me provide you with the definition of EPR and explain the possible future of plastic waste management in Thailand.

The EPR is a strategy that is designed to identify and encapsulate material in the system for as long as possible. The EPR concept aims to hold producers responsible for the environmental impact of their products and packaging through the circular economy model concept.

But how does EPR actually work in real life? The EPR includes implementing take-back and recycling programmes for products and packaging, setting up collection points and recycling pickups for products and packaging, and designing new products and packaging that are easier to reuse, upgrade, repair and recycle.

EPR in Germany

The EPR system in the European Union (EU) may typically be ahead of the curve, especially in Germany, the EU's biggest economy.

In Germany, the law has put the EPR principle into practice under the Packaging Act, Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act and Battery Act.

For the packaging sector, Germany has implemented monetary value to returnable containers at €0.25, or around 9 baht, for each single-use recyclable container -- PET bottles and aluminium cans. Packaging refund machines are installed in almost every local supermarket in Germany.

With the German Deposit Refund System (DRS), the cost of beverages in the country has dropped significantly as consumers only pay for the liquid in the packaging, and the value of the container is returned to them when they return the packaging at a convenient drop point.

The DRS, as part of the EPR concept, may sound like the perfect solution for Thailand in tackling single-use beverage containers.

Nevertheless, the EPR implementation will only be effective under supportive legislation, together with a reliable system operator.

A further constraint on EPR implementation would be the cost-effectiveness of the system in the form of operating and logistic costs.

However, this issue could be solved with targeted government taxes and the importation of advanced recycling technology.

The enforcement of EPR policy is the key to success. Therefore, the government needs to work closely with manufacturers, traders, retailers, and other distributors to tailor a practical system.

In addition, we need to avoid the overlapping of roles and responsibilities.

There has to be proper and transparent data management throughout the system, as accurate data analytics is needed for all stakeholders.

But the best way to solve the plastic waste problem can start with you first. Without having to wait for an EPR in Thailand, we each can start solving the issue by reducing and avoiding our own use of single-use plastics, such as straws, plastic bags, and plastic cutlery

The best way is to refuse any single-use plastics and have your own refillable water bottle and utensils when you go out. With a change in our consumption behaviour, businesses will need to change their business model as well.

Such a new environmentally friendly business model would naturally be introduced to the market, helping to solve our national plastic waste problems in the most effective and sustainable way.

Nithiwat Kaewpreamkusol is a research assistant at the Thailand Environment Institute (TEI).

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