In the past 10 years, used plastic has made up 12% of all waste generated in Thailand, or about 2 million tons per year. Of this, 0.5 tons is put back into circulation, while the remaining 1.5 tons is single-use plastics waiting to be disposed of. Aside from waste in the system, Thailand also has to grapple with the global issue of marine plastic debris – plastic waste that begins its life as trash discarded into sewage systems and rivers before finally making its way to the ocean. Therefore, a national-level policy must be formulated to serve as guidelines for proper and systematic management of plastic across its life cycle, from manufacturing and consumption to disposal. And thus, the Plastic Waste Management Roadmap for 2018-2030 was born to protect the environment in Thailand and ensure that each piece of plastic is used to the greatest efficiency throughout its life cycle.
Used Plastic Situation in Thailand
Issues of post-consumer plastic management fall into three major categories. The first revolves around design and manufacturing; designing packaging and products using eco-friendly plastic or alternative materials is not yet a common practice. The second issue relates to excessive use of plastic packaging and food residues on plastic waste, which reduce recyclability.
The last category of issues concerns the recycling of post-consumer plastics. That is, Thais still lack awareness of systematic separation of used plastics, garbage collection services are still limited and inefficient, and there have yet to be laws or regulations that promote the sorting, disposal, and recycling of used plastics.
Roadmap from the Collaboration of All Sectors
This plastic waste management roadmap was developed with the participation of government, private sectors, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, educational institutions, and members of the general public. Based on their opinions and suggestions, the (Draft) Plastic Waste Management Roadmap for 2018-2030, thus came into existence and mirrors the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Primary Goals of the Roadmap
The first goal is to reduce and phase out the use of plastics and replace it with eco-friendly substitute materials by 2022. The target is to phase out plastic bags with handles less thick than 36 microns, foam food containers, thin single-use plastic cups, and plastic straws.
The second goal is to recycle 100% of used plastic by 2027 and properly dispose of unrecyclable plastic waste by incinerating and converting it into energy.
Entering Phase 2 of the Roadmap
The roadmap is divided into three phases, focusing on reducing, phasing out, and reusing plastics. At the moment, the first phase of the roadmap (2018 to 2019), which homes in on abandoning the use of cap seals, oxo-degradable plastic products, and plastic bags with handles less than 36 microns thick, has already been completed. The roadmap is now in its second phase (2020-2022), which lays out various measures for manufacturers, distributors, business owners, and consumers to minimize plastic consumption and encourage the use of eco-friendly substitute materials.
Measures to reduce plastic production: These measures are aimed at establishing industrial standards for recyclable and eco-friendly plastic products. They focus on urging manufacturers to research and develop plastic products and packaging that use eco-designs or plastic materials that are 100% recyclable or reusable as well as encouraging distributors and business owners to promote the use of products that are alternatives to single-use plastics. This is in order to promote waste separation and recycling and close the plastic loop.
Measures to reduce and phase out the use of plastic: It is necessary for all parties, including government agencies, private manufacturers, business owners, and the general public to cooperate, learn how to optimize plastic use, and avoid overconsumption.
Measures to manage post-consumer plastics: Education on the circular economy holds the key to promoting the recycling of used plastic. It is necessary to encourage waste sorting right from the community level and support upcycling businesses to ensure resource efficiency.
All of this will pave the way to the third phase (2023-2030) of the roadmap, where all parties are conscious of how to optimize the use of plastic across its entire life cycle, with manufacturers producing plastic products and packaging that are 100% recyclable or reusable, consumers minimizing the consumption of single-use plastics, and used plastic processors conducting research to develop new products from recycled plastic, in order to extend each life cycle of plastic products and maximize their use.
From the Roadmap to the Era of Circular Economy in Thailand
If the roadmap is accomplished, it is estimated that Thailand will be able to reduce used plastics destined for disposal by as much as 0.78 million tons, cut down costs, save landfill areas by around 2,500 rai or 4 square kilometers, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.2 million tons. The amount of plastic waste reduced is sufficient to fuel a 230MW power plant. In addition, the manufacturing sector is expected to save energy consumption in production by as much as 43.6 trillion BTUs.
The challenge for manufacturers, distributors, and business owners is, thus, to design plastic products and packaging that are both eco-friendly and consumer-friendly and to maximize the use of plastic by capitalizing on the advantages plastic has over other materials. As long as we come from a place of care, we can pass on that care to the world and ensure its sustainability.