The Prayuth Chan-ocha administration has taken the right step by finally banning the use of single-use plastic bags at supermarkets and convenience stores starting New Year.
This should be the beginning of a long process in making Thailand a more environmentally friendly and responsible society.
While some complain about the sudden inconveniences caused by the policy, in the long run, Thailand will have to face the fact that she is one of the world’s major plastic polluters in the sea.
For those unconvinced that the problem has reached a critical level, check old and not so-old news about how big and small sea animals are found dead with their stomachs full of plastic, or visit any popular beach in Thailand yourself and start counting plastic trash you can see. In fact, Bangkokians can just head to the nearest canal or river bank, and observe.
Yes, it’s inconvenient. Yes, supermarket and convenience store now can make more money selling “earth-friendly” cotton bags or tote bags for you if you found yourself unprepared, but we have to remain unwavering in trying to reduce single-use plastic bag if we want a cleaner and safer environment.
Supermarkets and convenience stores will no longer have to pay for single-use plastic bags. There should be ways to extract this sum and put it to a good cause or recycling process.
Banning single-use plastic bags is actually just the beginning, since fresh market have yet to introduce the ban. Environmental Minister Varawut Silpa-archa admitted earlier this week that 40 percent of the plastic-bag trash is generated by fresh markets transactions.
What the government needs to do now is to win the hearts of those who are not convinced or too unwilling to adapt. They have to try harder to convince with statistics and environmental science that this is for the good of Thailand itself and our posterity.
Incentives, cash or technological, can and should be offered to businesses in green technologies to produce alternatives to myriad types of single-use plastic packaging that is limited not to just single-use plastic shopping bags but various plastic packaging and over-packing of fresh and not-so-fresh food.
Additionally, plastic straws should be phased out and banned soon while incentives given to the production and introduction of re-use of paper, metal and bamboo straws. There is no reason why this cannot be achieved within 2020.
Also, please ban the importation of waste, electronic or otherwise from the so-called First World countries into the kingdom – unless you want Thailand to have an even trashier reputation. It is hypocritical to allow massive imports of plastic waste, third largest destination of such goods in ASEAN, while trying to tell its own citizens to not dump more plastic waste.
Back to plastic packaging of fruits and food, the government should encourage companies that produce sustainable replacement packaging that’s environmentally friendly and offer them tax-reduction.
Incentives should also be handed to businesses such as supermarkets, convenience stores and fresh market operators that are willing to go beyond not using single-use plastic bags but introduce non-plastic food and fruit packaging as well.
Last but not least, the government should encourage more efficient waste separation and recycling.
What’s not needed, however, is simpleton and dictatorial measures. The latest attempt by the government to censor images of single-use plastic bags on eight major television stations is simply a knee-jerk simplistic reactions rooted in autocratic mindset. Such news should be treated as a joke, assigned to the rubbish bin, and never recycled.
It is too early to say whether this campaign to put an end to single-use plastic will last. Other campaigns like wearing seat belts and motorcycle helmets ended up largely unenforced.
The government alone cannot be relied on for the success of this effort. The public must realize that enough is enough.