Food Deliveries During COVID-19 Lockdown Fuel Thailand Plastic Usage

A motorcycle taxi driver waits for customers at Khao San Road, empty of tourists due to the restrictions on entry by foreigners into Thailand due to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, in Bangkok on June 16, 2020. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)


Single-use plastic waste in Thailand ballooned during the coronavirus lockdown as demand for home food deliveries soared, activists say, setting back efforts to reduce the country’s dependency on the environmental scourge.

The contagion has had mixed outcomes for Thailand’s environment, with dugongs, turtles and otters returning to beaches normally packed with tourists.

But in urban areas plastic food containers, cutlery and bags have piled up, clogging canals, rivers and landfills as people stuck at home because of the epidemic order take-away.

Urban waste almost doubled between January and March from a year ago mainly due to increased food deliveries, says Wijarn Simachaya, president of the Thailand Environment Institute.

In Bangkok alone, rubbish leapt by 62 percent in April.

“The situation is really worrying,” he says.

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In Bangkok’s network of canals, trash collectors pluck plastic bottles, bags and containers from the fetid waters.

“Plastic pollution may kill more people than (the coronavirus) in Thailand,” says 12-year-old environmentalist Ralyn “Lilly” Satidtanasarn, the kingdom’s answer to Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg.

– Plastic detox –

Thailand along with Indonesia, the Philippines, China and Vietnam produce half the plastic waste in the world’s oceans, according to campaign group the Ocean Conservancy.

Over the last year all of those countries have pledged, or introduced, new rules to ban single-use plastic bags and other throwaway items.

Thailand outlawed plastic bags in supermarkets and department stores in January.

Before then Thais on average used eight bags a day, 12 times more than a resident of the European Union.

While the kingdom has weathered the virus well, with just over 3,100 cases and fewer than 60 deaths, fears of contracting it have seen single-use plastic return with a vengeance.

The new normal comes with more plastic — cutlery in sterilised bags and condiments in zip-lock sachets.

“A large part (of the extra plastic) will end up in the rivers and oceans,” warns Tara Buakamsri of Greenpeace Thailand.

He says the crisis had “cruelly highlighted” the need for better waste management in a country where only about 19 percent of the two million tonnes of plastic waste produced last year was recycled.

The government aims for 100 percent recyclable plastic to be in common use by 2027.

The other big four Asian plastic polluters are yet to give comprehensive figures on plastic use during the virus.

But some cities in Japan have reported an increase in plastic waste, even though its citizens are better at recycling.

Concerned by Thailand’s enduring addiction to plastic, civil society is hoping to inspire a public detox.

In northern Thailand, an academic is leading a team paving roads with plastic bags mixed with sand.

The composite slabs are lighter to transport and can last up to 400 years before decomposing, says Wechsawan Lakas of Chiang Mai Rajabhat University.

His inspiration to find an alternative came after a trip to the beach with his two young sons, who discovered waters bloated with plastic waste.

But the small gains are outsized by the scale of the Thai plastics industry, he says, insisting greater political will is needed to alter both consumer habits and the sources of raw materials.

“Because of the power of the petrochemical industry it will be difficult for the government to implement aggressive policies,” he warns.

“Changing mentalities will take years.”


China Moves To Phase-Out Plastic Waste

A woman scours through a pile of waste on the side of a road in Bac Ninh, east of Hanoi on December 16, 2019. PHOTO: Nhac NGUYEN / AFP


China will ban non-degradable plastic bags in major cities and single-use straws from restaurants by the end of this year in a bid to cut down on waste.

The country is one of the world’s biggest users of plastic, and the plan targets a 30 percent reduction in non-degradable, disposable tableware for takeout in major cities within five years.

In a document released Sunday, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said the production and sale of disposable foam and plastic tableware will be banned by the end of the year.

The plan also outlaws non-degradable, single-use straws in the catering industry this year, while disposable plastic products should not be “actively provided” by hotels by 2022.

By 2025, the authorities said they planned to effectively control plastic pollution and cut the amount of waste in landfills of key cities, on top of setting up a management system.

The bid to contain pollution comes as decades of rapid development and a drive for convenience have created huge levels of waste.

China produced 210 million tonnes of trash in 2017, according to World Bank figures, which warns that could soar to 500 million tonnes annually by 2030.

The targets extend to plastic packaging used in postal services as well.

Postal delivery outlets in areas such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Jiangsu will ban the use of non-degradable plastic packaging bags and disposable plastic woven bags by the end of 2022.

More than 2.3 billion parcels were shipped in the aftermath of last year’s massive shopping festival Singles Day, according to China’s postal authority.


Japan Unveils Policy To Curb Plastic Waste Before G20

FILES) In this file photo taken on July 19, 2018 Seagulls search for food near a sewage discharge area next to piles of plastic bottles and gallons washed away by the water on the seaside of Ouzai, south of Beirut. PHOTO: JOSEPH EID / AFP


Japan on Friday announced a policy to reduce marine plastic waste, part of efforts to raise the issue at the G20 summit it will host next month.

Japan is hoping to cast itself as a leader on the issue, and will reportedly press for an international agreement to reduce the amount of plastic going into the ocean during the Osaka summit from June 28 to 30.

“Ocean plastic waste is one of the issues topping the G20 summit agenda, and as the chair of the meeting, we will exercise leadership to solve the matter,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a ministerial meeting that adopted the policy package.

But so far the policies are largely theoretical, with no timeline specified for legislation needed to implement some of the programme.

Japan is the second largest per capita producer of plastic waste in the world after the United States, and while it has a comparatively high recycling rate, it lags behind on efforts to reduce single-use plastic.

Included in the policy is a plan to require retailers to charge customers for plastic bags, though it remains unclear when that will come into effect and whether all retailers will be affected.

Plastic bag charges are already common in many parts of the world, and the European Union in March passed legislation banning other single-use plastic including straws and cutlery from 2021.

Japan’s policy aims to recycle 100 percent of newly produced plastics by 2035 and promotes the use of biodegradable alternatives to oil-based plastic.

The package also includes a plan to support Southeast Asian countries with recycling technologies and other infrastructure, the government said in a statement.

Globally, some eight million tonnes of plastic waste is estimated end up in the sea each year.

From Japan, some 20,000 to 60,000 tonnes of plastic wastes are estimated to flow into oceans annually, the government said.

Plastic pollution has become an increasing international concern, particularly after bans imposed by China and other countries on the import of plastic waste from overseas.

Many countries, including Japan, have seen plastic waste pile up in the wake of the ban.

Among the many concerns is the issue of microplastics, the small pieces of degraded waste that are difficult to collect once they enter the water.

Microplastics tend to absorb harmful chemicals and accumulate inside fish, birds and other animals.

The government plan also includes calls for expanding use of biodegradable plastics and the strengthening of laws punishing illegal dumping of plastics in waters.

Coca-Cola, Walmart To Cut Plastic Pollution In Oceans

Seagulls search for food near a sewage discharge area next to piles of plastic bottles and gallons washed away by the water on the seaside of Ouzai, south of Beirut. JOSEPH EID / AFP


Coca-Cola, Walmart and other big multinationals pledged on Thursday to help reduce plastic pollution in the world’s oceans in support of a campaign by five of the G7 industrialized nations.

Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy, along with the European Union, signed the Ocean Plastics Charter at a leaders’ summit in Canada’s Charlevoix region in June.

The United States and Japan abstained but non-G7 nations Norway and Jamaica are also backing the plan to ensure 100 per cent of plastics are recyclable by 2030.

The nations aim to develop more viable alternatives to plastic packaging, to work towards a goal of all plastics being recycled and reused by 2040.

On the second day of a G7 ministerial meeting in Canada’s Atlantic port city of Halifax, Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced “a new partnership with businesses” to reduce plastics waste.

Backers include Loblaws, Walmart, Nestle Canada, IKEA, Dow Chemicals, the Coca-Cola Company, BASF Canada and A&W Canada.

Unilever also announced that it was launching a non-profit entity to reduce consumer and business waste, while Volvo upped its target to make 25 per cent of the plastics in its cars recyclable by 2025.

The G7 group of the world’s major economies are also looking to tackle a growing source of marine pollution: lost fishing nets and gear, which account for 70 per cent of plastic waste floating on the surface of the sea, Canada’s Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said.

About 640,000 tonnes (tons) of nets and other fishing gear are discarded in the oceans each year, killing an estimated 136,000 seals, dolphins, sea lions, turtles, small whales and other seabirds, according to the World Animal Protection group.

“This is a really big problem,” Wilkinson told AFP from the Halifax talks.

“There is a consensus among G7 countries that this is a very important issue… and there is a clear commitment to addressing it,” he said.

According to the United Nations environment agency, 70 per cent of the large plastic waste that floats on the seas comes from fishing.

Josey Kitson, executive director of World Animal Protection, called the plastic debris “death traps” for many seabirds, fish and marine mammals, but expressed hope that the G7 will address the problem.

Wilkinson said G7 and other governments represented at the Halifax meeting are exploring fixes such as incentives for fishers to reuse gear and dispose of ageing nets properly.

The aim is “to actually clean it up (but also) not discharge it in the first place,” he said.

The G7 is also looking at ways of tracking discarded gear back to vessels in order to identify polluters.

Although no timetable has been set, the G7 ministers have agreed to “discuss this issue again” at the Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi in November, Wilkinson said.


Pope Francis Urges Clean Up Of Plastic Waste From Oceans

A recycler stands among tons of plastic rubbish at a sanitary landfill on June 2, 2018 in the industrial city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Zinyange Auntony / AFP


Pope Francis on Saturday issued a call to clear up oceans threatened by plastic waste and underscored the need to provide drinking water to all as a basic right.

“We cannot allow our seas and oceans to be littered by endless fields of floating plastic,” the pontiff said in a message on the fourth World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

“Sadly, all too many efforts fail due to the lack of effective regulation and means of control, particularly with regard to the protection of marine areas beyond national confines.”

The pope also said that access “to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right” and deplored that for many it was “difficult if not impossible.

“Our world owes a great social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity,” he said.