One cannot ignore the amount of plastic pollution these days. It's quite common to find single-use plastic waste lying around once it has served its purpose. It is anywhere and everywhere.
As we celebrated International Coastal Clean-Up Day on Sept 16, we are reminded of the massive problem brought about by single-use plastics that must be immediately addressed on a global scale.
The Problem With Plastics
A by-product of fossil fuels, single-use plastics pollute throughout their life cycle: from the moment extracted to disposal. They impact people and planetary health, destroy our biodiversity, accelerate social injustice, and fuel the climate crisis at every stage of its life cycle.
For six years now, Greenpeace Thailand has consistently organised not just clean-ups but brand audits in different parts of the country. We do so to raise awareness of the hazards of single-use plastics and to check who produces this problematic plastic packaging and hold them accountable. Brand audits also empower people to take action on behalf of their communities.
Thailand is renowned for its picturesque beaches. Unfortunately, our coastlines are never kept clean, as plastic always finds a way to ruin the landscape. After you finish beach cleanup today, new trash awaits tomorrow.
It's futile work and highlights how plastic pollution is more than a waste management problem. Each time we do cleanups, we lament how the environment and the local ecology suffer from plastic pollution, not to mention the communities who live nearby and who have to deal with endless waste- the consequence of big brands' passing the burden on consumers to manage the plastic waste that they produce.
People Power Against Plastic Pollution
Together with youth, volunteers and partners, Greenpeace Thailand has conducted brand audits in the country's northern, central, and southern regions: Wonnapha Beach in Chon Buri province, Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai province, Laem Son On in Songkhla province, Bang Kachao in Samut Prakan province and Chao Lao Beach in Chanthaburi province.
In addition, Trash Hero Thailand has also helped collate data collected by 139 volunteers in various areas to compile into a brand audit database from activities done in Chiang Rai, Koh Samui in Chumphon province, Hua Hin in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, Koh Samet island in Rayong province and Bangkok.
To date, we've collected around 46,929 pieces of trash from 8,209 foreign brands, 15,247 Thai brands, and 759 unidentified brands. And we've consistently seen the same brands everywhere.
The top five local brands with the most plastic waste during 2018-2022 were packages of these brands -- Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group, Dutch Mill, Osotspa, Sermsuk, and Singha Corporation, respectively. While the top five foreign brands found with the most plastic waste were Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, Unilever, and AJE Thai, respectively.
Plastic Producers' Responsibility
The data we've collected and analysed is just a snapshot of the bigger problem in Thailand. But it allows us to call out these brands and manufacturers and demand that they take action and be accountable for their products' life cycle and their impact on society and the environment.
These brand owners and manufacturing companies have long profited at the expense of people and the planet.
It's now time for them to literally clean up their mess and be part of the solution by shifting to a reuse- and refill-based business model. Greenpeace Thailand is also asking Thai brands and manufacturers to adopt the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) to be part of their packaging management policy to reduce the production of new single-use plastics. Why? Because the responsibility of the manufacturer extends to the entire lifecycle of plastic and it is only fair that they be held liable for the cost of environmental loss and damage attributed to their plastic packaging. Prevention principles must be set in place rather than restoration because environmental impacts are immeasurable.
These brands must change their business models to promote real, sustainable solutions. This means rethinking their business model to make them more efficient, and investing in alternative delivery systems like reuse and refill. Materials substitution is not enough. False solutions such as waste-to-energy, chemical recycling, and plastic offsetting must also be stopped. To prevent corporate greenwashing, we are also asking these brands and plastic manufacturers to disclose their plastic footprint information that is accessible to the public to show their real commitment to reducing single-use plastic production.
To reduce single-use plastic on a massive scale, Greenpeace Thailand also asks the newly installed government to enact and strictly enforce the EPR to all stakeholders.
Wanted: A Global PlasticTreaty
Greenpeace Thailand, as part of the global Break Free From Plastic movement, has been calling for systemic change to end the age of plastic. Clearly, we cannot recycle our way out of this crisis if we remain business-as-usual.
Government action is crucial, and states have finally taken notice of the plastics crisis and the need for interventions. This comes after states have signed a UN Resolution to develop an internationally legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution in March 2022. It mandates member states to discuss and negotiate for a global, legally binding plastics treaty to address the whole life cycle of plastics.
Just a few days ago, the zero-draft of the Global Plastics Treaty was released. It includes necessary provisions to reduce plastic production and use. But governments must go further and ensure an ambitious treaty that turns off the toxic plastics tap.
For Greenpeace, we demand that Treaty must cut plastic production by at least 75% to ensure that we stay below 1.5C to protect our health, our rights, our communities, and our planet.
While seemingly impossible, there is a way out of this man-made crisis.
There are working solutions available, promoted by individuals and small businesses who want to break free from plastic and its toxic legacy. And they are inspiring others more and more every day.
The Global Plastics Treaty also sends a positive message that major changes are underway, as demanded by an unstoppable global movement of millions from around the world who want to end the age of plastic today.
As a consequence, big brands are now feeling the pressure to rethink their production and marketing strategies to comply with local and national bans that are being enforced and to respond to the public's demands to be more sustainable and protect the environment.
Someday soon, we will reclaim our beaches back to their pristine state for everyone to enjoy. Hopefully, coastal cleanups will be a thing of the past, with people gathering at the beach only to admire a beautiful sunset.
Pichmol Rugrod is the Plastics-Free Future Project Leader at Greenpeace Thailand. She calls on the Thailand government to support a strong and ambitious Global Plastic Treaty.