Anti-plastic campaign starts to hit home
Among Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa's top priorities is reducing the amount of single-use plastic bags. To help him, 75 department stores, convenience stores and other shops with more than 24,500 branches nationwide have agreed to do so and from Wednesday they will stop giving these bags away for free.
Meanwhile, customers of many big department stores are saying no to plastic bags, partly because of growing awareness about how harmful they are to the environment, especially marine life.
As well as the "Every Day Say No to Plastic Bags" campaign, the Pollution Control Department (PCD) has introduced a 20 year-action plan on plastic waste management from 2018-2037, which includes measures to stop Thais using seven plastic items and types.
They are cap seals, Oxo-degradable plastic, microbeads, plastic bags of less than 36 micron thickness (widely known as single-use plastic bags), polystyrene-made food containers, plastic cups and straws.
It is estimated that Thai consumers get through 700,000 tonnes of polystyrene for food containers per year, 1.72 million tonnes of plastic cups and straws, together with 1.17 million tonnes of plastic bags. They also produce around 1.13 kilogrammes of waste per day per head, which adds up to around 27 million tonnes of waste per year. The PCD kicked-off the plan by announcing a ban on using plastic cap seals in drinking water bottles in 2018, expecting it would eradicate around 2.6 billion pieces, or around 520 tonnes of plastic, per year.
Elsewhere, the Thai Food and Drug Administration has announced a ban on microbead use in all cosmetic products effective from Wednesday.
Additionally, the minister said a ban on plastic cups and straws will be imposed next year.
A cashier at Golden Place supermarket, who asked not to be named, said the shop now has paper bags for sale for two baht each for customers who do not bring their own bags, but admitted they were not strong enough to hold large and heavy items.
Meanwhile, the campaign against single-use plastic bags is a nightmare scenario for their manufacturers, who claimed they stand to make huge losses as a result of the ban.
The Thai Plastic Industry Association's chairman Somchai Techapanichkul said the government campaign to stop using single-use plastic is two years ahead of schedule, which will seriously hurt SMEs unable to make production adjustments in time to produce thicker plastic. The original time frame was for the year 2022.
According to the association, there are around 500 plastic manufacturing plants nationwide with over 8,000 employees. A sharp drop in the number of orders as a result of the ban will almost certainly mean job losses in the near future and damage to the industry estimated at 30 billion baht per year.
"We don't oppose the ban, but it should have been gradual. An immediate halt will completely destroy our business. We have not seen any government measures to help us cushion this blow," Mr Somchai said.
The association submitted a letter to the ministry, demanding a rehabilitation scheme, including compensation for employees and firms.
Mr Somchai also feared the situation will get worse if the government bans plastic bag use in fresh markets owned by state-owned agencies by the year 2021, as they are major plastic bag industry customers.
Regarding plant-based bag production, he admitted that this is one alternative and many manufacturers have already turned to this as it is an inexpensive investment. However the cost of each bag is four times higher, which raises costs for shops which makes replacing plastic bags more difficult.
A PCD source recommended manufacturers produce plastic bags of more than 36 microns in thickness which can be distributed by stores.
One shopper who identified himself as Mink believes the government is coming down hard on consumers when it comes to plastic.
He thinks the government is misleading the public into believing plastic bags are not good for environment, when in fact the problem lies with plastic waste management.
It should implement measures to improve waste management and promote recycling by providing incentives and encouraging people to dispose of waste responsibly so that it does not end up in the sea.
He said the new policy will cause problems for shoppers who forget to bring their own bags to stores. He said he saw one incident in which a shopper's purchases ended up on the floor because the paper bags she was provided with were not strong enough to hold her shopping.
"I don't want to be in that kind of situation. I want my plastic bags back, and better waste management in this country," he said.
A woman who did not wish to be named said she also preferred plastic bags because they can be used many times and are light.
"I've been asking for more at shops before they disappear," she said.