World Environment Day provides an opportunity to reflect on what is needed to protect and improve the environment in Thailand. The country is known globally for its picturesque beaches, although continued plastic waste leakage is threatening these popular destinations.
Thailand is among the world’s largest contributors of plastic waste into the ocean with underdeveloped waste disposal practices contributing to the problem. This limited infrastructure has been taxed even further due to an increase of plastic usage during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research from the Thailand Environment Institute found that plastic waste in Bangkok increased by 62 percent during March and April of last year when compared to the same period in 2019. Ultimately, that means more plastic waste will likely end up in the ocean, harming coral zones, mangroves and marine wildlife.
One major issue Thailand has in combating this problem is that there is no clear pattern of plastics distribution in marine areas. For example, a 10-kilometer patch of plastic waste was found floating in the Gulf of Thailand without warning.
However, this is only one instance of what has become a pervasive issue. Plastic waste continues to wash up onto Thailand’s beaches and endangers the entire marine ecosystem.
This year’s World Environment Day sees the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The initiative calls on governments, corporations and citizens to help stop the degradation of ecosystems and aid in their recovery.
Given Thailand’s struggle with plastic waste leakage, aquatic ecosystem restoration of freshwater like rivers, lakes, canals and oceans will be vital. For many businesses operating in the country, the most important contribution they can make is waste management, and, in particular, rethinking how they dispose of waste.
One possible solution for plastic pollution is for businesses to implement the extended producer responsibility (EPR). This is a circular approach where manufacturers are accountable for the end-of-life impact of the plastic products and packaging they produce.
EPR covers all steps of the process, from design and production through to disposal. It can be a tool where producers and manufacturers are incentive to not only dispose of plastics more responsibly but also design products that lessen their impact.
Opting for traditional waste solutions puts further strain upon the country’s already inefficient collection programs and disposal methods. Pre-and co-processing remain the best alternative to this. Instead of sending plastic waste to landfills, it can be destroyed in cement kilns where it is used as fuel. This process leaves no residue or waste ensuring nothing is left that could pollute the marine ecosystem.
In a middle-income country such as Thailand, this helps meet the pressing need for controlled disposal and energy recovery that ecosystem restoration requires. What’s more, it can play a crucial role in reaching the country’s circular economy ambitions.
Of course, the Ecosystem Restoration initiative covers more than waste disposal in order to product and regenerate natural environments. As it relates to aquatic ecosystem restoration of freshwater like rivers, lakes, canals and oceans, prevention is important, but it is not only action required. With so much plastic waste already introduced to Thailand’s marine environment, other contributions from all stakeholders are needed.
This commitment to sustainability and offset climate change is one of INSEE Ecocycle’s guiding principles. It starts with responsible waste management which remains one of the most important actions we take to restore our ecosystem. Doing this creates cleaner oceans, improved air quality and a better overall living conditions for everyone.
However, actions must go beyond this in order to fully restore Thailand’s aquatic ecosystem. INSEE Ecocycle, Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) and 34 entrepreneurs joined with more than 4,000 volunteers to cleanup a 15.1-kilometer stretch of coastline in Rayong. INSEE Ecocycle also partnered with the Thailand Bio-Diversity Network Alliance (B-DNA) to assist with the cleanup of mangrove forests in Bangpu and has launched several initiatives, including Think Waste Wise and the dumpsite mining project.
World Environment Day and the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration can be a watershed moment in Thailand’s fight against plastic waste leakage. But it will require all stakeholders to work together to find sustainable solutions that tackle the plastic pollution crisis and take the lead in these efforts.