Trash heroes

Every Monday is a special day on Satun's Koh Lipe island. It's the day when everyone, locals or visitors, can call themselves a "trash hero" for joining in a remarkably successful campaign to keep the area clean.

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The Trash Hero garbage clean-up campaign originated in Koh Lipe. Photos by Jetjaras Na Ranong

Trash heroes

Anchalee Kongrut

Every Monday is a special day on Koh Lipe, a sandy, breathtaking and increasingly touristy Andaman island off Satun province. It's the day when everyone, locals or visitors, can call themselves a hero.

Since December 2013, Monday has been designated as the day of the "Trash Hero", when a big clean-up of Koh Lipe, including other small islets in Moo Koh Adang Rawi in Tarutao National Marine Park, takes place with the participation of locals and tourists. Fifteen months after the campaign began, it is estimated over 50 tonnes of garbage have been removed. "Trash Hero" won The Thailand Green Excellence Awards UK in November 2014. The campaign has gradually become an inspiration for other tourist spots in Thailand, and even Indonesia.

Volunteers collecting garbage from an island at Tarutao Marine National Park.

"Anyone can be a 'Trash Hero'. There is no cost, no sign-up. All you need to do is just show up," said Jirawat Somboon, one of the campaign organisers.

Anyone who sets foot on Koh Lipe can feel the enthusiasm. On the ferry which runs from the mainland, or in some restaurants and hotels, there are leaflets inviting visitors to join the Monday trash collecting event. Come the day, there is a community spirit where everyone — Thai and foreign — lends a hand.

In the early days, there were only a few participantspioneers Roman Peter, Nirut Chochuang, Jirawat and Darius Vikili, a Swiss man who's married to a Thai lady and ran a beach cafe for over a decade. But word got around, and from that humble start, now Trash Hero mobilises over 2,000 volunteers from about 20 countries almost every Monday during peak season. After seeing the commitment of the team, hotels and restaurants on the island helped sponsor the campaign by providing long tail boats, drinking water, food and related facilities.

Darius Vikili, third left, Roman Peter, fourth left, and Jirawat Somboon, second right.

"The Monday clean-up campaign is seriously obeyed by everyone. But even if there are only two people who turn up, the show must go on," said Jirawat.

Except when the weather turns really bad, anyone who wants to be a Trash Hero can meet at 10am on Monday at Pattaya Beach. When we visited the place recently, a small group of visitors were waiting at the meeting point. Most of these volunteers were tourists who had joined the campaign for the first time. Soon, long tail boats arrived to pick them up and carry them past dots of splendid small islands in Tarutao National Marine Park. The boats stopped at the stunning Ao Luek Bay in Koh Rawi, a small island near Lipe (on other Mondays, the boats go to other bays, coves and beaches for the clean-up).

Garbage is hauled back to the mainland and sent for recycling.

At first glance, the quiet Ao Luek Bay is idyllic. But locals know that the serene cove, as designed by nature, is actually a site where rubbish washes up. Every day, the waves carry a large amount of garbage to this particular beach, and it has got worse since the tsunami in 2004. As of last May, volunteers have collected from this beach 80,000 flip-flops, 61,500 plastic bottles, 16,000 plastic lighters, 18,800 glass bottles, 200 cubic metres of styrofoam and 3 tonnes of non-recyclable waste. This trash is truly international: 60% is washed up from Malaysia, India and Myanmar.

Part of the 61,500 plastic bottles that had been collected by last May.

Most reusable trash is recycled. For example, 80,000 flips-flops in May were sent to the rubber-recycling project at Prince Songkhla University in Pattani. Plastic lighters were sent to an artist on Koh Lanta in Krabi, where they were turned into lamps and art objects. Bottles were sold to recycling factories. Non-recyclable trash is sent to a municipal waste disposal site.

Read the full story here: http://www.bangkokpost.com/lifestyle/social-and-lifestyle/599752/cleaning-up-the-accolades

Find more information here: https://www.facebook.com/trashherothailand http://www.trashhero.org

Related search: Trash heroes, clean-up campaign, Koh Lipe, Satun, Tarutao National Marine Park

About the author

columnist
Writer: Terry Fredrickson
Position: Online Editor of Learning & Education