Channels overflowing with packaging, landfills flooded with bags: in Thailand, one of the biggest ocean polluters in the world, plastic waste has exploded since the pandemic with the boom in home food deliveries.
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A Bangkok City Hall boat advances through the capital’s canal system. Objective: to collect a maximum of rubbish that threatens to clog the sewers of the megalopolis of 11 million inhabitants.
Bottles, pockets, containers of all kinds clutter the narrow lanes, making navigation laborious. Mixed with vegetation and food, most trash will be impossible to recycle.
Plastic waste “almost doubled in urban areas from January to March. In April, over a year, they jumped 62% in Bangkok alone. The situation is worrying, “said Wijarn Simachaya, president of the Thai Environment Institute, interviewed by AFP.
China, Indonesia and Vietnam – other major ocean polluters – did not publish statistics over this period, while in Japan, this type of litter increased in large cities, but was ultimately better recycled .
In question, in Thailand: home meal deliveries. Already very popular in normal times by a population who cooks little at home, they exploded with the confinement and the closure of restaurants.
The craze continues, albeit to a lesser extent, despite the gradual reopening of the country, which lists some 3,000 cases of COVID-19 and less than 60 deaths.
“Plastic pollution risks killing more than the coronavirus” in Thailand, sighs Ralyn Satidtanasarn, says Lilly, a 12-year-old American-Thai ecologist, inspired by the Swedish Greta Thunberg.
6e ocean polluter
The kingdom is already the sixth biggest polluter of the oceans.
And the images of whales, dolphins or turtles found dead in recent months, their stomachs lined with plastic, have shocked.
Pointed to, the government banned single-use bags in supermarkets earlier this year, a small revolution for a country that consumed an average of eight per day per capita, twelve times more than in the European Union.
The objective was clear: to reduce their number by almost a third by the end of the year.
In 2020, this fight seems lost in advance. Plastic waste could even increase by 30%, according to the Thai Environment Institute.
“The government is fully aware of this situation, but prefers to focus on the coronavirus,” sighs Lilly. When school resumes, she will skip classes again to start again on her paddle clean the channels.
A drop of water. The country only recycled 19% of the two million tonnes of plastic litter it generated last year.
Much of the new waste produced during the pandemic “will end up in rivers and oceans,” said Tara Buakamsri of Greenpeace Thailand.
This crisis “has cruelly highlighted the need for effective management from the homes of individuals, hotels or shops to reprocessing plants,” he said.
The government put in place an ambitious roadmap for 100% recyclable plastic by 2027 last year. But lack of political will, some observers say is unrealistic.
Monk’s robes, masks, shoes in recycled plastic, individual initiatives are multiplying to make up for the shortcomings.
Wechsawan Lakas, assistant professor at a university in Chiang Mai (north), leads a small team that makes pavers from plastic bags and sand to build roads.
They are “lighter to transport, more solid, they can resist from 100 to 400 years before decomposing”, he assures. “With a little bit of money, we could produce 500 a day.”
But his project receives no public aid.
The petrochemical industry, one of the main outlets for which is the production of plastics, generates tens of thousands of jobs and is still very powerful in the kingdom.
Facing it, “difficult to have a real political will. Changing mindsets will take years, ”said the professor.