Thailand is one of the worst plastic polluters in the world, but local businesses are taking steps to change that. Numerous retailers, including convenience stores, have stopped providing single-use plastic bags to customers this year.
This approach could have the potential to reduce some of the huge amounts of plastic waste produced in the country. So far so good. However, there is a catch: it is not only the locals who generate the huge amounts of waste in the country.
Thailand is also one of the world's largest importers of plastic and electronic waste. After China banned the import of plastic and electronic waste in 2017, polluters turned to other countries to take their plastic garbage. What has followed is a sharp increase in wastes imported from foreign countries in various Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.
Waste management experts warned that Thailand, a country known for its picturesque tropical beaches, is becoming "the garbage dump of the world."
Greenpeace reported that Thailand imported more plastic waste in 2018 than in 2017: 329,137 tons, it said. The Southeast Asian nation imports most of its plastic garbage from Japan, Hong Kong, and the United States (173,371 tons; 99,932 tons; and 84,462 tons, respectively).
Experts have pointed out that many local recycling factories prefer plastic garbage from outside the country because household plastic waste is potentially contaminated. Plastic waste imported from abroad must be in accordance with Thai regulations, which is attractive for recycling facilities looking to reduce the expense of sorting and cleaning recyclable plastic waste.
However, waste imports come with their own problems. “Much of it is mislabeled as 'recyclable' even though the shipments make up hundreds of thousands of tons of contaminated plastic and other mixed waste from developed countries that cannot be processed, reports Greenpeace.
Thailand is already the world's sixth largest contributor to ocean debris, and the lack of waste segregation and efficient management poses further risks to the country's environment. Some environmentalists attribute the rise in plastic waste to a new law passed by the Thai government.
"Although the Thai authorities conducted one-off high-profile inspections at industrial sites, where e-waste and plastics from abroad were illegally handled for domestic processing, there is no information on follow-up procedures to ensure that legal compliance has ever been disclosed," Penchom said. Saetang, director of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand.
"Systematic efforts to carry out such facility investigations have yet to be established," added the expert. "This lax regulatory environment is aggravated by recent amendments to the National Factory Law, enacted in April 2019."
The revised law allows companies to invest in even more recycling plants, which will likely continue to further increase environmental and plastic pollution.
Worse still, much of the imported waste ends up in unregulated facilities run by night flight operators that reportedly force low-paid workers to work in unsanitary conditions that pose serious health risks. The environmental risks of a largely unregulated recycling industry are also considerable.
Residents in the vicinity of factories that recycle plastic and electronic waste are often exposed to unhealthy doses of pollutants on a daily basis.
“A farmer who lives nearby saw his cattle get thinner and thinner. He thinks it's because of the factory, "a Buddhist monk in Chachoengsao province, near Bangkok, told a news agency. "And a woman recently died after being ill," he added. “His daughter thinks she got sick from the smoke from the factory. The smoke was inside his house all the time. "
Author: Darunee Sukanan