Wasting the plastic enemy
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Wasting the plastic enemy

After skimming through The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art Of Decluttering And Organizing, a book by Marie Kondo, it pushed me into thinking about the last time I did a big clean-up. I set about doing one, and one unexpected discovery was that I own so many cloth bags, which occupied a whole cabinet.

These cloth bags are popular products from attempts to reduce plastic bag use over past years. I got most of them for free. The corporate logos on most of them imply that each organisation cares about environmental issues. However, I had a second thought: have all the cloth bags we own helped save the world? As they usually end up unused in my cabinet, I tell myself that the answer is no. Recently, there has been a campaign to reduce plastic bag use. On the 15th of every month, starting last Saturday, supermarkets won't put your groceries in plastic bags.

This is a scheme stemming from co-operation between the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and companies who run malls and convenience stores, such as CP All, Central Food Retail, Central Marketing Group, Big C Supercenter, The Mall Group, Foodland Supermarket, Siam Macro, Central, Ek-Chai Distribution System Co. (Tesco Lotus) and many more. These giant chains cover most of the main stores in Thailand.

The goal of this campaign is simple: it is an attempt to help save the world from global warming. Plastic waste is a big culprit in the output of carbon dioxide.

According to statistics from the Pollution Control Department, Thailand produces 2.5 million tonnes of foam and plastic garbage every year, or approximately 7,000 tonnes a day; 80% of this stems from plastic bags. As a plastic bag user, that number doesn't really surprise me. Each time we shop, both in malls or in local markets, plastic bags always come with whatever we buy. But no matter how I keep reminding myself to reuse them, sooner or later they always end up in rubbish bins mainly because they don't look durable and reusable.

The process of managing this non-biodegradable garbage isn't an easy job. Thailand is still in search of the best method for waste management, and landfill is what Bangkok has to rely on. But it's not efficient since it cannot be utilised in agriculture, and it takes around 450 years for all the waste to disintegrate. If burnt, hydrocarbon will be released, contributing to global warming.

To me, the government's latest campaign to reduce plastic bag use sounds very eco-friendly, even if this is hardly a new thing. It might be the first time that this kind of joint effort has clearly identified partners and earmarked specific dates to raise people's awareness, and covers wider targets across the country.

So maybe this is a chance for me to use my cloth bags -- and I have hopes more people do the same on the 15th of every month. But when I went shopping on Saturday, it turned out that only a few customers brought their own bags, not to mention that some stores were still distributing plastic bags as usual. Still, it could be because the campaign has just been launched and not many people know about it.

However, we've seen some incentives to change customer behaviour. For example, some stores have put up signs encouraging the use of cloth bags. Customers who refuse to take plastic bags will receive extra points on their member's card. Some stores ask for a small donation if plastic bags are needed or inform customers they will not give plastic bags if customers buy only a small number of goods.

This is a good kick-off but all partners must be active in order to meet the goal. One way to make this kind of campaign effective is either to make people feel that they will directly benefit from it or they will lose some advantage -- for instance, plastic bags should be charged for if customers need them, which is normal practice in most other countries. Also, reducing plastic bag use just once a month may not be enough to build long-term awareness. At least this initiative should be applied every weekend or at least twice a month.

I was attempting to find the way to manage those cloth bags stocked up in my cabinet -- maybe throwing them away as I'm planning to tidy up my house according to advice in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

But with this campaign, I might find a good reason to use those bags more. And if I still have too many, I hope I can distribute them to others.

Another good initiative would be for convenience stores to have a system where people can drop off their extra cloth bags and those who want one can get one for free. That will even minimise our excessive use of our enemy, the plastic bag.

Pattramon Sukprasert is a feature writer for Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Pattramon Sukprasert

Feature writer

Pattramon Sukprasert is a feature writer for Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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