BANGKOK — Through the power of petitioning, one 11-year-old girl is doing more to save Thailand’s environment than perhaps most of the country combined.
Since she was 8, Ralyn “Lilly” Satidtanasarn has been meeting with mall executives to demand reductions in single-use plastic waste. Central Group’s recent decision to stop automatic bagging in its malls is due in part to her petition.
“I want to ask him for help,” Lilly said by phone Tuesday. She was at Government House hoping to meet Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, though she ultimately didn’t get to.
Quietly in the background of school climate strikes and the Greta Thunberg movement, Lilly has been meeting directly with officials to lobby for policy change. A sixth grader at St. Andrews International School, Lilly spends about three to four days a week visiting other schools and meeting both government and corporate officials.
Still, the same problem dogs her as the green movement: dismissal.
“When I was in face-to-face discussions, some people were defensive. I was saying all the cons and alternatives [to single-use plastic], but they just said I was a small girl and all alone,” Lilly recalled, describing her most discouraging moment of activism. “The Mall Group and CP were most offensive, and so I kept bugging them.”
A US-Thai dual citizen, Lilly was shocked when she first visited a Thai beach at the age of 8 and met enormous amounts of trash.
“I wondered why it was so bad. It looked nothing like the photos,” Lilly said.
Lilly’s mom, Saisie, recalls that since that 2016 beach trip, Lilly has been going green with snowballing efforts. She began by asking friends, family, churches, schools, and local market vendors to recycle and ditch single-use plastic.
Two months after she sent a complaint, a local government office emailed Lilly and said they weren’t in charge of plastic use. The office suggested she contact companies instead.
So Sasie led Lilly, then nine, by the hand to the Central Food Hall at Central Chitlom and asked to speak to the manager – and it was the first time a corporation listened.
After listening to a PowerPoint presentation by Lilly about reducing single-use plastic, Central started implementing green programs such no-plastic bag days once a month (an initiative that began on July 3, 2018). The Mall and Villa soon followed suit with similar day programs.
Lily speaks on the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior ship in June 2018.
Although Thailand does have environmental protesters – from international school climate strikes, to university activists against the killing of black panthers, to Southerners’ hunger strikes against coal plants – Lily and her mom differ by networking with higher-up execs.
“I didn’t start with protesting because I was afraid. I’m more comfortable talking to people. Touching people’s hearts is better than yelling at them with signs. I want to communicate so they realize,” Lilly said.
Still, one girl can only do so much. Other no-bag campaigns implemented by franchises like Tesco Lotus, Big-C, and 7-Eleven still stop short of levelling penalties, such as additional costs, for resorting to plastic bags.
Lilly is currently meeting with education officials to ask that lessons about the environment be included in Thai school curriculums.
For World Environment Day on Wednesday, she hopes that everyone in Thailand will start with little changes such as bringing their own cloth bag to buy groceries.
“I am an 11 year old girl and I can do this. So if I can do this, then you can do it too. It’s just one small step at a time so we can achieve our goal of a cleaner world,” Lilly said.
Follow Lilly online at her Facebook page, Bye Bye Plastic Bags Thailand.
7-Eleven’s video promoting alternatives to plastic bags, featuring rocker Artiwara “Toon Bodyslam” Kongmalai and BNK48 pop group.