EARTH Thailand

New law in Thailand risks drawing an avalanche of plastic waste

Nikkei Asian Review 27 June 2019 | MARWAAN MACAN-MARKAR

BANGKOK -- Thai environmentalists are pressing Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to slow the enactment of a law they say could create a loophole in monitoring pollution and result in Thailand importing more plastic waste from abroad.  

The law amends the 1992 Factory Act and is set to take effect in October. The amendment was approved in late February by the National Legislative Assembly, the then military-government's rubber-stamp parliament, to create a business-friendly environment, according to the government. It was one of many laws the outgoing military junta rushed through parliament before a contentious general election in late March.  

Under the amended rules, only industrial companies with more than 50 employees and machinery exceeding 50 horsepower are subject to monitoring for waste discharge and antipollution measures. Previously the law applied to any industrial site with seven or more workers and machinery of at least five horsepower.  

Environmentalists say factories that employ fewer than 50 people will be exempt from mandatory five-year licensing requirements and will escape pollution monitoring by the Department of Industrial Works.

While the revised law may cut red tape and be more business friendly, the environmentalists say the amendments open big loopholes that will foster the toxic business of waste imports, particularly of plastic, which have ballooned in Thailand since 2016. The new factory act "will increase nontransparency and corruption," said Penchom Saetang, head of Ecological Alert and Recovery-Thailand, a local green group. "Thai authorities need to revise the new Factory Act based on views from public consultations."

Analysts expect over 40% of the country's 60,500 registered Thai and foreign-owned factories to benefit from the looser rules. These include the seven Thai companies that hold licenses to import electronic waste for recycling.

"The new factory act opens the doors for companies to invest in factories and plants that will result in the country becoming more polluted," said Supaporn Malailoy, manager of the Enlaw Foundation, a local environmental advocacy group. "There is concern that the local authorities who will give factories permits to operate may lack specialization in assessing the environmental impacts of the factories."

The change in the law follows an earlier push by the junta to ease pollution rules three years ago that also angered environmentalists: Order Number 4/2559. The edict suspended planning laws in towns and cities that restricted the opening of toxic and heavily polluting waste disposal projects in areas where people live and places zoned for farming.

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