A study report released by Ocean Conservancy in 2017 indicated that Thailand, China, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam together as the group of countries which dump plastic into the oceans at approximately 17 Million ton/year which is more than the rest of the world combined. 1.03 Million ton/year was estimated to be from Thailand. The Department of Marine and Coastal Resources’ statistic between 2003 – 2018 also shown that there are 3,720 conservative marine animals died such as sea turtle, whale, dolphin and dugong. It is believed that majority of this incidents are due to marine plastic garbage. Pollution Control Department (PCD), Thailand has also investigated this problem and estimate that approximately 80% of marine plastic garbage in Thailand is actually originated from land-based plastic garbage.

  Ranking of countries that produce the most marine garbage

It is estimated that approximately 12% of the total amount of waste generated in Thailand are plastic waste. This result in approximately 2 million tons of plastic waste generated per year. It is also estimated that, plastic waste in Thailand is recycled at the rate of approximately 0.5 million tons per year, while the remaining 1.5 million tons are mostly single use plastics (SUP) such as hot bags, cold bags, handle bags, plastic cups, plastic straws, foam boxes, and food containers. The usage of SUP is very short and it will be discarded as a solid waste with increasing quantity and proportion. In the past, these kinds of plastic waste will be brought to landfill together with other kind of waste but because plastic waste is so durable, it can withstand high loads and therefore takes up more space in landfill than other kinds of waste. It also takes hundreds of years to decompose. Uncarefully discarding of plastic waste is a very common practice in Thailand. This often causes obstruction of city’s sewers, resulting in flood when heavy rains. The discarded plastic is also usually run off to rivers and canals, and eventually ends up in the sea. The decomposition of waste plastic usually creates microplastics. It is now known that microplastics can affect marine ecosystems, food chains and living organism. Many researches have also found microplastics are distributed in many areas of the environment such as among sands in beaches, among sediment in the estuary, as well as in human food chain.

 

Development of roadmap on plastic waste management

Thailand government has realized the seriousness of environmental pollution problem caused by plastic waste. On April 17th 2018, in a cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister has issued an order to Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to work with all sectors and develop a set of action plan to prevent and solve the problem of plastic waste throughout its cycle (from production, distribution, consumption and disposal). Soon after, a subcommittee for plastic waste management has been established under the National Environment Board. Later, a working group on the development of plastic management mechanism as secretary of the subcommittee was also set up. The working group proposed a draft roadmap for plastic waste management 2018 – 2030 to be used as a framework and direction for prevention and correction of Thailand’s plastic waste problem.

In order to come up with the roadmap, the working group on the development of plastic management mechanism provided participation opportunities for government agencies, private sector, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, educational institutions and relevant parties to obtain comments and suggestions via 3 meetings with the working group, 3 meetings with plastics industry entrepreneurs, and 5 meetings with the plastic waste management subcommittee in order to set up work plans / projects under all agencies. The draft version of roadmap was presented to the National Environment Board and get approved. The roadmap was later acknowledged by the cabinet at its meeting on January 4th, 2019.  Months after, the roadmap had been revised according to comment received.

On April 17th 2019, “the roadmap on plastic waste management, 2018-2030” was presented to the cabinet and get approved. The roadmap will be used as a policy framework to deal with problem of plastic waste in Thailand. The objective of the roadmap is to reduce and stop the use of plastic and replace it with more environmentally friendly materials. According to the roadmap, after 2019, three plastic products namely, 1st cap seal (plastic that cover bottle cap) 2nd OXO-degradable Plastic and 3rd Microbead, will be banned. The use of four other types of SUP namely 1. thin plastic bags with thickness less than 36 microns, 2. styrofoam food boxes, 3. plastic straws, and 4. single-use plastic cups, will be banned by 2022. The leaflet of the roadmap has been circulated heavily throughout the medias.

A version of plastic waste roadmap leaflet in English distributed by Pollution Control Department

7 types of plastic products to be banned

One of the goals of the roadmap is that by 2027, 100 percent of plastic waste shall be reusable. Campaigns for promoting public participation in reducing and stopping the use of plastic were lunched through conventional and on-line medias toward the end of 2019. Moreover, a plastic waste database will be created, while appropriate tools and mechanisms will be used within Thailand’s context, such as behavior change and reuse of plastic. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, expected that this policy will result in reduction of volume of plastic waste by 0.78 million tons per year and save 3.9 billion baht in cost of waste management annually. The roadmap will also help reduce greenhouse gases emission to 1.2 million tons of CO2 equivalent and 1,000 acre of landfills’ space.

However; after the general election in march 2019, a new cabinet was formed in June 2019. The Minister of Natural Resource and Environment was soon appointed. The ministry began the campaign on plastic waste by asking/persuading retail stores such as department stores, shopping centers, supermarkets and convenience stores to voluntarily stop giving away plastic bag earlier than being scheduled in the roadmap. By September 6th 2019, the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment had announced that 75 large and small retail businesses had already joined the “No plastic bag distribution project”. The ministry had estimated that the campaign would reduce the amount of waste from plastic bags up to about 13,500 million bags.

On November 27th 2019, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, announced that the continuous campaigns to raise awareness among people and foreign tourists on plastic waste in very short time had already moved Thailand from the country with the highest sea debris in the world from 6th rank down to 10th rank. The permanent secretary praised such incredible result was derived from public and private cooperation. Especially the private sector, which has created an impetus for the public to be alert to significantly reduce the use of plastic bags and foam boxes. It is also expected that the trend will get stronger after passing the new year of 2020. Marine resource scholar “Dr. Thon Thamrongnawasawat”, a deputy dean of faculty of fisheries of Kasetsart University, added that in order to solve marine litter problem. Thailand must focus on reducing the use of plastic to the least, while aiming for dropping out of top ten should be the main target. In addition, by the beginning of 2020, many private sectors started their campaigns against the use of plastic bags and foam within the organization with new effective solutions. Therefore, it is a catalyst for the reduction of single-use plastics (SUP) which could disappear from the country faster.

 

Current situation of plastic waste after COVID-19 pandemic

However; the trend of reducing plastic waste in Thailand was somehow unexpectedly stopped due to arrival of COVID-19 pandemic in Thailand on March 2020. The policy that government of Thailand used to combat COVID-19 are social distancing, working at home, and closed down of gathering places such as restaurants, theaters, conferences and shopping malls. These sudden changes are contributing to rapid grow of food delivery services in 2020. Due to such circumstance, it is estimated that online food delivery in Thailand will reach 250 million orders in 2020 with growth of approximately 100% YTY. This growth is much higher than last year growth of just 14% with around 120 million orders. Therefore; total plastic waste in Thailand from food delivery is expected to reach 560 million pieces this year. It is also predicted that instead of reducing plastic waste, if the trend continues, the plastic waste in Thailand will increase by 15% from last year. On July 8th 2020, the minister of natural resource and environment ordered PCD to set up a new action plan with food delivery companies. The department is drafting a MOU which will be signed with all major food delivery companies in Thailand such as Grab Food, Line Man, GET Food, Food Panda, Lalamove and Pizza Hut to change food containers to more environmentally friendly material and avoiding SUP or use a deposit-refund system for food container. In this regard, food containers can be reused for hundreds of times before recycled. This reduces the consumption of resources and creates alternatives to reusable food containers; although this option may not change the customer behavior immediately.

It can be clearly seen that waste reduction from food delivery requires more cooperation from all parties, starting from “food delivery operators”. There must be a clear policy to reduce the use of plastic packaging; for example, Grab Food in Thailand has a policy to reduce plastic waste by adding more options (feature) in the app which allows customers to choose to accept or not to accept plastic cutlery, as well as encourage business partners’ restaurants to switch to paper bags in order to replace single-use plastic bags or Line Man, which has announced a campaign to reduce using of plastic in food delivery with partners’ restaurant. There is an option not to accept cutlery or plastic bags started in August 2020.The same is true for “restaurants”, that may replace single-use plastics with biodegradable containers. The packaging made from bagasse biodegradable within 45 days, ultra-high-quality plastic bags made from recycled plastic up to 5 times the thickness in food delivery services so that consumers can reuse plastic bags for more than 20 times, etc. if possible. It will reduce the amount of single-use plastics by 1.2 million pieces by the end of 2020.

For “consumers”, the general public can play a significant part in reducing plastic waste from food delivery services by “reducing” and “sorting”. Plastic cutlery or plastic straws when ordering food through the app Food Delivery turned to using reusable materials instead.Waste separation, when the packaging or plastic container cannot be avoided, is what consumers should do in order to solve out the plastic packaging waste. By separating food waste and cleaning the packaging and then collecting these plastic waste to be discarded. Sorting will reduce the amount of plastic waste sent to landfills and increase the reuse of plastic through the recycle or upcycle process of private companies and to provide a circular economy system. In addition, plastic waste from the food delivery that has been cleaned can also be used to make coal substitute fuel in cement production furnace.

The case of “food delivery waste” is obviously intensifying the situation of plastic waste in Thailand. Tackling the problem of overflowing plastic waste is an issue of serious concern. If there is no campaign to rebuilt cooperation with all sectors soon after COVID-19 resolves, the government would have to go back to the beginning to solve the plastic waste problem.

* The following table is a summary of time schedule of plastic waste policy in Thailand

April 17th, 2018 Order from the Prime Minister to develop action plans against plastic waste problem
April 17th, 2019 Approval of “the roadmap on plastic waste management, 2018-2030”
September 6th, 2019 Joining the “No plastic bag distribution project” by 75 businesses
December 23th, 2019 MoPH’s notification on banning cosmetic containing plastic microbeads[1]
March 2020 onwards Rapid increase of food container waste due to COVID-19 pandemic in Thailand
July 8th, 2020 Preparation of a new action plan for food delivery companies
By 2022 Ban of 4 types of single­­-use plastics, including thin plastic bags with thickness less than 36 microns, styrofoam food boxes, plastic straws, and plastic cups
By 2027 Achievement of 100% reuse of plastic waste

[1] http://www.ratchakitcha.soc.go.th/DATA/PDF/2562/E/312/T_0004.PDF