Material World: A Plastic Culture

So after living in Bangkok for 3 months, I find myself with a heap of plastic and not really sure how and when I obtained it all; let alone what to do with it. The main problem is that Bangkok doesn't seem to recycle and considering the amount of plastic used daily on the streets to package, repackage and then bag it all up again- this seems nuts.

As I notice my cupboards bulging with plastic, I find it hard not to ponder just how much plastic is getting used here. According to Thailand's Department of Environmental Quality Promotion (DEQP) on average 8 plastic bags per person [each day] gets used. Studies in Bangkok estimate that the nation’s capital contributes more than 1,800 tons of plastic bag waste to landfill each year–reportedly increasing by 20% annually. These are some crazy statistics. How possibly can plastic usage be on the up and still no formal way to recycle?

The main problem is that plastic is cheap in Thailand- cheap vs. environmental damage is an age old debate the world over. The east is changing and fast catching up with the west for its capitalism and materialist drive and the peak of plastic usage is at an all time high here.

So what is been done about the 600,000 bags used per day in the capital?

Some residents separate items from their waste to sell onto street buyers. Waste collectors and pickers separate these recyclable material from rubbish in dustbins and from landfills. Some larger businesses can sell their recyclable materials directly to the recycling factories. Materials that are regularly collected for recycling include plastic and glass bottles, food tins and cartons, paper and cardboard. Some of these items are sold to the recycling factories; some are used directly to make new products. A green label was introduced at some point for consumer and industrial products. However, it was not a huge success due to the belief that "green" products are more expensive.

There were also some schemes introduced to counteract the environmental problem, such as No bag, no baht along with a few other incentive campaigns but they haven't been so successful in diminishing the plastic use in Thailand's capital.

Thailand matters?

At the recent UN climate summit (2014); Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Thailand, stated that all countries have a responsibility to address climate change, but the extent to which they do this may differ between countries. I hope this isn't Thailand's way to avoid responsibility in all aspects of environmental policy, its fair enough to change what you can but to ignore strategies that aren't working isn't the best solution to global pollution issues.

Thailand hasn't always consumed plastic so heavily. It's age-old tradition is to package with banana leaves which is much more environmentally friendly, but the introduction of plastic packaging became a quicker method for street vendors needing to save time and gave a longer lasting product. The introduction of plastic food wrappers and household items has resulted in litter problems and all for the sake of innovation and progress. Thailand is fast catching up with the west in many ways and is now considered 'upper-third world' on the global economy. With its economy on the increase, all global environmental issues should be on its agenda not just capitalism and consumption.

While other countries are banning plastic bags worldwide, Bangkok is at most, introducing annual awareness-raising campaigns. These have proved ineffective in recent years. Awareness and education campaigns fail to track any real hard data, so the effectiveness of Bangkok’s “one less bag a day” campaign is another project that makes it hard to see any results.

Worldwide crisis?

Over a trillion plastic bags are used annually worldwide. Most of those bags are destined for a landfill, which degrade very slowly over time.  According to the Five Gyres Institute, a non-profit that conducts research on plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, the problem is that a lot of those bags don’t end up in a landfill, but rather, litter sidewalks and streets before making their way to the water. A significant amount of that plastic finds its way through drains before ending up in the ocean, where currents distribute the waste globally, damaging marine ecosystems along the way and making the oceans toxic & air quality poor.

Great Pacific Garbage patch

This is where most of the plastics in the ocean will end up due to ocean current- It’s like a plastic vortex, since the patch holds high concentrations of plastic, along with debris and sludge.Plastics swirl around and are broken down by sunlight and wave currents for years until they’re sucked into and concentrated in this spinning circular sinkhole. Since the plastics have disintegrated into small, nearly invisible particles. The marine debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the five other plastic debris patches found in gyres globally, is only projected to grow.

While the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing, plastic bags are now cheaper than ever. Tougher restrictions on plastic bag usage, whether through a ban or a tax, is needed before the environmental situation worsens – and that goes for both Bangkok’s gutters, and our global garbage-patch gyres.

So how can we do our bit to reduce plastics?

So for those who find themselves with heaps of plastic. The best thing to do is find a use for it and most definately don't throw it in the garbage.

So welcome to my world of plastic - Here are some of my quick fixes I made to re-use recyclables instead of chucking them in the bin. I started off by always finding a use for water bottles; cutting the tops off and turning them into toothbrush holders, candle holders, pen holders and cable tidies. After I'd pretty much got an organised box for everything in my condo, I then moved onto the more complex- a broom- I mean, kind of a broom- it sweeps up the rubbish anyhow.

I know eventually I'll have to throw it in the trash- but for now- at least it is getting a second use! I know my inventions aren't so creative but look online; there are some fantastic websites for inspirational up-cycled items.

Please where ever you are in the world- reuse bags or buy a bag for life! Find a use for any plastics you end up buying- but ideally don't buy plastics. Try to cut down on the plastics you consume. Get creative.

It is my absolute dream to become a virtually zero waste household. But thats a whole other blog. :-)

Happy up-cycling!