Answer to Thailand's growing garbage problem lies at home

Answer to Thailand's growing garbage problem lies at home

Today is Thai Environment Day. Exactly 25 years ago, in a speech given on the eve of his birthday, His Majesty the King expressed concern about the worsening environmental problems facing Thailand.

The King pointed to deforestation, a decline in the country's clean-water supply and the dilemma over the imperative to protect a forest versus the need to construct a dam to generate electricity. His Majesty urged us to cooperate in efforts to tackle these problems. At stake, he said, was not just the wellbeing of the country but also the survival of the Earth. In 1991, the government approved a proposal by the Science and Technology Ministry to designate December 4 Thai Environment Day.

Over recent decades the negative impact of Thailand's fast-growing economy and industry has become more and more visible. We have suffered increasing deforestation, multiplying garbage, hazardous waste, air and water pollution, water scarcity, declining wildlife and soil erosion. The boast for economic growth is that it raises living standards, but the cost in damage to people's health and the environment is obvious too.

That cost is most visible in the burgeoning of garbage. Each year the country's households generate 26.7 million tonnes of trash, of which a mere 5 million tonnes is recycled, according to the Pollution Control Department (PCD). The rest - 19.9 million tonnes of putrefying and sometimes-hazardous waste - is tipped into the growing dumps around the country.

PCD director general Wichien Jungrungruang says each year's accumulated garbage would be enough to fill the country's tallest building, the 300-metre Baiyoke Tower II, 139 times over. And that total has grown every year - on average each Thai now produces 1.15 kilograms of garbage a day, surpassing the Japanese average of 1kg.

With that growth has come greater threats to health and the environment. Increasingly bloated, badly managed dumpsites plus illegal tipping have left more and more residents around the country facing hazards such as toxic run-off and smoke from trash fires.

With the situation getting out of hand, it has become obvious we need to find a more efficient way of recycling to help reduce the amount of trash.

The process begins at home, where we can start separating our garbage by type. Recyclable items such as plastic bottles, tins, paper and glass containers can be disposed of separately from household waste and either sold or put out for collection by garbage trucks or scavengers.

Many communities encourage this practice by offering food or everyday consumer items in exchange for residents' recyclable garbage. Such projects are a good way of instilling the idea of recycling in children. But more communities need to offer such incentives if we want to cultivate a national recycling habit among the next generation. The authorities and businesses could help out here by providing funding or consumer items to be exchanged for recyclable garbage.

Thailand is already implementing plans for garbage-fuelled electricity plants as part of the solution to the growing mountains of trash. But we also need a wider cultural change in the way we deal with garbage, and small community recycling projects are the key here. If all of us started recycling our trash today, the Baiyoke Towers of trash would soon shrink and our individual acts of kindness to the environment would quickly pay off.

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