Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Thai DO Love Their Plastic Bags...

Bags from a single, short trip out one afternoon

If you've spent a morning in Thailand at the JJ (Jatujak/Chatuchak) Weekend Market and done any kind of shopping whatsoever you arrive back at your room with enough plastic bags to stop a train - elevated or otherwise - and probably of a surprising variety, to boot. From the feather light bags we're used to seeing in the produce departments of U.S. grocery stores to heavy-duty grade thick ones like the solid green one in the top of the photo above that you could carry ten pounds of nails in without a single one tearing through.

This isn't to pick on JJ Market; it's safe to say almost any time you buy any item over there - regardless of how small and insignificant - it's likely to be handed to you in a sturdy plastic bag, as if your pack of chewing gum needed special treatment. It's simply how it's done there, and most of the time it's not worth mentioning.

Occasionally I'll just take the item out, put it in my pocket and hand the bag back to them (which saves them the cost, anyway) but if it's something I'm taking back home as a souvenir I take it home in the bag and let the recipient recycle it. The bags are different enough that they're a novelty of a minor sort, so I figure it's just part of the gift.

But Mommm... it's Tommy's turn to take out the trash!

When you stop to think of the sheer volume of them used over time in Thailand, though, the numbers must add up. Wondering about that as I was gathering up what seemed like a small arm load of them to take out to the recycle bin this morning I did a quick check... and they do.  Add up, I mean.

Bangkok leases nearly three quarters of the 2,000 trash trucks on the streets daily - like this on stuck in traffic on the Saphan Taksin bridge one morning

The people of Bangkok alone generate about 9,370 tons of garbage per day (that's 8,500 metric tonnes), and of that total almost 2,000 tons (1,800 mT) are plastic bags.

I read an estimate from their Ministry of Natural Resources and environment that if they'd quit with just the bags the country could save $21 million a year, or 650 million baht.

Yes, this is the same picture from a "Safety On The Job...Or Not..." post from two years ago

Most of the time the streets of Bangkok are cleaner than a huge metropolis in the U.S., but people are people all over, and when you have visitors adding to the trash both there and in slightly less obvious areas you do see trashy spots. If you don't buy that, take a look down between buildings or behind fences in an unused spot and you'll see it - just like at home. It happens.

San Francisco and a couple of other nearby cities have outlawed the plastic bag, forcing people to either buy/re-use paper bags or buy and re-use other plastic shopping bags, as may happen at some point in Thailand, as well.  The Thai already use fiber re-enforced, re-usable bags for many things, especially larger quantities, things moved on a regular basis and for some storage. I can't use the larger versions for groceries here, but I've brought back the smaller bags from there for groceries here. Not that I'm waste-free, but at least I'm doing part of my part.

It's a pie-in-the-sky hope Bangkok will eliminate the bags you see flying along in the exhaust of a bus or carried skyward by the wind, but they could cut their carbon dioxide production by an estimated 11 million tons per year if they did. Worth at least taking a stab at, I suppose.

While they think about it, how about if I put that pie in a styrofoam box and bag it up for you, hmm? I'll be right back with that.


mahjongguy said...

Last week at Central Festival in Pattaya they were charging 10 baht for their usual heavy duty paper bags. We said No Thanks and carried our purchases in our hands.

I don't know if that was some kind of eco-awareness event or if it will be an ongoing policy.

Was Once said...

Thai's have yet to ask the consumer with every purchase….Would you like a bag? Opting out sometimes the clerk or owner loses face when you give back the bag…and most instances they throw it away rather than use on a different person. A long ways to go as far as awareness.
But I did see recycle "JUICE BOX" big box in BIG C, some company shreds and makes wavy roofing from them which is a great way to not use asbestos roofing. Hopefully it less costly.

Krobbie said...

But Bao-Bao, what will they put their icy drinks and straw into?

You do see the plastic bag becomes a staple necessity in that case. Plastic in general. Look how one buys their street food. Always in a plastic bag filled with air and tied expertly with a pink rubber band.

I think chnage may take a while and I don't think you or I will be alive to see it. You know what I mean.


khunbaobao said...

Thanks for the comments above, all!

As for the "losing face" part I'll hope that's not the case, but if I'm putting an item into my pocket or another shopping bag I'd hope they'd understand. Hadn't thought of that, though, so thank you for yours.

The plastic bag actually has a purpose there, Krobbie, and I admit that. My wish would be that what I view as a gross OVER-use could be curtailed. It's a slow sell to encourage the use of re-usable bags in the USA, too, but it's progress.

If you have to pay for a bag (many in the range of $1USD each) you're not as likely to toss it onto the street or into the landfill... but it's going to take an effort, I agree.

Krobbie said...

Your correct there Bao-Bao. If we have to pay for plastic, that is usually more of a conscious thought. Next time you go to the supermarket one takes there recycled bags.

The thing is to charge $1. It's the only way it will stop.

Our supermarkets in New Zealand don't even have a paper option. Straight into plastic.