Campaign against plastic bags builds up steam as shoppers and retailers say 'no'

Campaign against plastic bags builds up steam as shoppers and retailers say 'no'

This has been a remarkable year in which shoppers have shown their support for the environment. After the launch of the say "no" to plastic bags campaign in mid-August, roughly 15 million plastic bags have been saved.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Dapong Ratanasuwan knew it was about time people took the issue of plastic bags seriously. He realised there was no quick fix to waste management and hoped saying no to plastic bags would soon become routine for shoppers.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment had waste management as its top priority thanks to over 24 million tonnes of garbage, and put all its efforts into dealing with the mounting piles of rubbish, including by using waste-to energy power plants. It also asked the public to reduce waste in all activities, with a special focus on plastic bags that are widely in use and provided free in department stores, mega-markets and convenience stores.

The Science journal's latest report said that Thailand is one of the top 10 countries producing plastic waste that sinks to the bottom of the sea along its coastlines.

China topped the list, with its 8.82 million tonnes of plastic waste each year; followed by Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. Thailand came in at No.6 with 1.03 million tonnes.

This is not the department's first attempt to reduce waste. A 45-day campaign took place from April 22 to June 5, 2009, to encourage people to say "no" to plastic bags and start to shop with a tote bag instead. But the campaign flopped due to poor public relations.

The Department of Environmental Quality Promotion recently signed a memorandum of understanding with 15 supermarket chains and convenience stores, in a bid to reduce the use of plastic bags.

The campaign -- that encourages shoppers to say "no" to plastic bags on the 15th of each month -- aims to raise public awareness and reduce the use of plastic bags. A non-biodegradable plastic bag can take up to 450 years to break down.

To reach its target, some department store operators are encouraging customers to decline plastic bags by giving more bonus points as an incentive to its members who shop with their tote bags while convenience store salespeople will try to persuade customers to use fewer plastic bags.

According to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, plastic and styrofoam waste account for 2.7 million tonnes of garbage a year, amounting to about 10% of all waste. Of that amount, about two million tonnes is plastic, half of which comprises bags. It would be possible to reduce the number of plastic bags by 24.46 million a year if each shopper in Thailand used one less plastic bag a day.

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