Plastic waste fight steps up
Bangkok Post 10 June 2018 | Apinya Wipatayotin
Private sector joins enterprising state efforts to tackle single-use bags and bottle caps as rubbish volumes increase
'Beat Plastic Pollution", a campaign kicked off by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to mark World Environment Day on June 5, brought into focus the global community's efforts to deal with single-use plastic bags that are now posing a threat to the environment, especially the sensitive marine ecological system.
Plastic debris kills a large amount of marine animals in the ocean annually. In Thailand alone, almost 500 rarely-seen marine life forms die each year and a main cause of death is man-made marine debris.
Big piles of garbage floating in the ocean can move freely around the maritime world without any government taking responsibility as they can always argue they do not belong to that country; the rubbish comes from somewhere else.
However, with rising public awareness of the dangers of plastic waste, it may be time for governments and private enterprise alike to take more responsibility.
Many scientific reports have found the sea is now heavily contaminated with microplastics.
Two years ago the United Nations Environment Project Report said that more than a quarter of all fish in Indonesia and California have ingested plastic.
Experts have warned that heavy consumption of food contaminated with microplastics can be harmful to people's health. People are now falling victim at the end of food chain.
PUTTING WASTE IN ITS PLACE
A new report from the UN Environment Project finds global efforts to address plastic pollution are surging.
The first-of-its-kind accounting effort finds governments are increasing the pace of implementation and the scope of action to curb the use of single-use plastics.
The report "Single-use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability" was launched on World Environment Day, with case studies from over 60 countries.
It analyses the complex relationships in our plastics economy and offers an approach to rethink how the world produces, uses and manages single-use plastics.
It also suggested governments need to improve their waste management practices and introduce financial incentives to change the habits of consumers, retailers and manufacturers.
They must finance more research and develop alternative materials, raise awareness among consumers, fund innovation, ensure plastic products are properly labelled and carefully weigh possible solutions to the current crisis, the report says.
Among the key findings, the report says government levies and bans -- where properly planned and enforced -- have been among the most effective strategies to limit overuse of disposable plastic products.
However, the report goes on to cite the need for broader cooperation from business and private sector stakeholders, offering a roadmap for upstream solutions, including extended producer responsibility and incentives for adoption of a more circular economy approach to plastic production and consumption.
The study also found that 30% have registered a drastic drop in the consumption of plastic bags in the first year.
The remaining 20% of countries have reported little to no change. It also said the total economic damage to the world's marine ecosystem caused by plastic amounts to at least US$13 billion a year.
Meanwhile, by 2050, an estimated 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic.
These products also will have harmed over 600 marine species.
Also, about 15% of species affected by ingestion and entanglement from marine litter are now endangered.
TAKING OUT THE TRASH
Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Surasak Kanjanarat says plastic bag over-use is already having strong impacts on the environment.
"We use 45 billion plastic bags per year. Please help reduce the shocking figure," he told his audience during World Environment Day on Tuesday.
Two years ago, the government approved the master plan on garbage management between 2016-2021 to deal with accumulating garbage in the country.
However, one challenging problem is the total amount of waste is still rising, judging by Department of Pollution figures.
It estimates the amount of waste generated per person per year reached 1.14 kilogrammes in 2016, compared with 1.1 kilogrammes in 2014.
The ministry's permanent secretary Wijarn Simachaya said plans to destroy garbage are going well, but managing the large amount of waste produced every day was proving more difficult.
He admitted it is hard to construct the power plants to burn up the waste as suggested under the plan due to protests from locals who worry about pollution.
Thailand has power plants fuelled by waste in Songkhla, Phitsanulok and Phuket; Bangkok, meanwhile, has a plan to build one.
The department surveyed sites and found 53 sites have the potential to be developed as power plants with garbage as the fuel stock.
Pawin Talerngsri, the member of national reform committee on natural resources and environment, said proper waste management should be carried out by the private sector as they have the skills to manage it properly and effectively.
They also know how to get money from waste, he said.
He said investment costs in such power plants are high if advanced technology is needed to limit the impact of pollution on health and the environment, together with measures on waste segregation to increase the plant's production capacity.
"The government should support the private sector in dealing with the waste. They have their own way to make money from the waste, which will effectively reduce the amount of waste at the end," he said.
The national reform plan on natural resources and environment set a target to reduce waste by 50% and increase the amount of waste recycled to 30%, up from 19%.
Mr Pawin said a pilot project to introduce waste segregation in people's homes will be introduced in the next five years.
The Ministry of Interior will issue a ministerial regulation on waste segregation to help bring this about.
According to the Department of Pollution Control, around 80% of household waste can be recycled. But the path to garbage segregation moves slowly because at the moment all waste is tipped into a truck at the time it is collected.
TIDES OF CHANGE
Veera Akaraputhiporn, vice-chairman and president of the Thai Beverage Industry Association, said the business sector is doing its best to limit the use of plastic.
The latest success is cooperation with the Department of Pollution Control in eliminating cap seals on drinking water bottles.
"We will move further on reducing the use of drinking straws, which are sometimes not necessary for beverage products," he said. "And we will ask for a law amendment to pave the way for recycling plastic from water bottles."
He referred to the Ministry of Public Health's regulation, which bans any recycled plastic bottle for drinking despite the fact that many countries in the EU and Japan allow manufacturers to sell drinking water in recycled plastic bottles.
The Department of Pollution Control wants to eradicate all drinking water bottle cap seals by next year, after the country's top five companies pledged to stop using them April 1.
That could help reduce by 10% the amount of garbage produced per year.
The five companies were Boonrawd Trading company (Singha drinking water), Sermsuk Pcl (Crystal), the Thai Drink company (Chang), the Nestle company (Nestle Pure Life) and the Carabao Group Pcl (Carabao).
According to the Department of Pollution Control, Thailand produces 4.4 billion plastic drinking water bottles per year, of which 60% were sealed with a plastic cap.
The weight of the plastic seal caps amounts to 520 tonnes a year.
Kamolvis Kaewfaek, the managing director of Marketing Organisation for Farmers, said the market, under cooperation from the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion and the SCG, are striving to reduce the amount of plastic bags and foam used in the market.
He said he discussed the matter with the SCG and found the company has the technology to reduce plastic bags by 20%.
He said plastic bags are still important for clients, but the market has realised that it is important to reduce their use as much as possible.
The first batch of environmentally-friendly plastic bags will come on the market shortly with 10,000 bags to be released initially. There are 600 shops in the market with the segment worth two billion baht per year.
According to the UNEP, 500 billion plastic bags are used a year and 13 million tonnes of plastic enter the sea.
Every minute, one million plastic bottles are bought. In 2016, there were 480 billion plastic bottles used.