In line with commitments from companies and governments across the world, Thailand has pledged to implement a ban on single-use plastics in 2021, implementing penalties for those violating the new norms, according to local sources.
The initiative is reportedly being implemented by Environment Minister Warawut Silpa-archa, who is working with the national cabinet and related agencies to raise public awareness on the campaign.
Guidelines on the ban are currently being developed but the goal will be to ban three types of plastics, microbeads, cap seals and oxo-degradable plastics, by the end of 2021. The other four types, lightweight plastic bags, styrofoam food containers, plastic cups, and plastic straws, will follow in 2022.
According to the new plan, customers in department and convenience stores won’t be given any more single-use plastic bags from next year, replacing them with paper or cloth bags. Dozens of shopping malls and stores such as 7-Eleven and HomePro have already pledged to fulfil the new scheme.
However, some have expressed a healthy dose of skepticism.
“This is a good start … I hope this is not just a PR exercise” said Tara Buakamsri, Greenpeace’s country director in Thailand. “The challenges is in the working details in how to measure progress and ensure that the measure is effective in really banning the use of plastic bag.”
The initiative is framed in what’s called Thailand’s Plastic Waste Management Road Map 2018-2030. Goals are also long-term, with an ambitious plan for Thailand to use 100% recycled plastic by 2027 in various forms, including turning waste into energy – a procedure rejected in some countries.
A total of 150 million tons of plastic waste are circulating in oceans, seas, and other water sources, having built up since the 1950s, according to Ocean Conservancy. Thailand is responsible for much of that, as the sixth country to dump the most waste into the sea, according to Siam Commercial Bank’s Economic Intelligence Center.
According to Greenpeace, about 75 billion pieces of plastic bags end up in the waste each year in Thailand. Half of that amount comes from malls, supermarkets, and convenience stores, with the other half coming from traditional markets and street vendors.
Thai people generate as much as 1.14 kilograms of garbage per head per day, contributing to the 27.04 million tons of waste per year, according to Thailand’s Department of Environmental Quality Promotion. Each person uses an average of eight plastic bags a day.
Only industrial companies in Thailand with more than 50 employees and machinery exceeding 50 horsepower are subject to monitoring for waste discharge and antipollution measures. This has been frequently questioned by environmental groups, pushing the government to act on plastic waste.
Joining a global movement
Thailand’s decision to ramp up action on plastic waste follows previous commitments by countries and companies across the globe, reacting to new reports of the negative consequences of single-use plastics.
India imposed last October a nationwide ban on plastic bags, cups, and straws. The European Union plans to ban single-use plastic items such as straws, forks, knives and cotton buds by 2021, while California would commit to a 75% reduction in plastic waste by 2030.
According to Ocean Conservancy, plastic has been found in more than 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of sea turtles species, as they eat it thinking it’s food. This can affect their nutrient uptake and challenge their feeding efficiency, threatening their lives.
About 2.5 billion metric tons of solid waste is produced around the world and within that 275 million metric tons is a plastic waste, the NGO estimates. About eight million metric tons of plastic goes into the ocean every year, on top of the 150 million tons that are already there.