Recycling in Thailand | Reflections about a visit to the waste dealer

Recycling in Thailand is happening. Waste dealers and recycling stations are familiar along Canal Road in Chiang Mai. I am somewhat fascinated and somewhat shocked by the way it works here.

Being Swedish with my own country’s rigorous waste management and pressure on the individual to sort and recycle correctly).

The informal private waste business, however, generates a vital income for the so-called salengers(derived from the word samlor drivers that would pick up trash) in Thailand. Remember that Kor Tor Mor/ garbage staff collectors also make money from selling recyclables.

Recycling in Thailand the numbers

Bangkok wrestles with approximately 10 000 metric tons of waste per day propagated by its population of over 12 million people.  Just a part of the 27 million tons produced across the country every year.

Of the roughly 4.85 million tons of solid waste generated every year, only around 930 000 tons or 19% are segregated and recycled.

People meeting up to collect my recyclable waste.
So many attentive workers that shows up immediately.

What we would do at home

We used to have a principle to have everything well segregated at home and drive the goods with recycling potential to the waste management centres. Then I somehow realised that while doing this, supporting the kid’s monthly money and teaching them something about recycling and the vast amounts of plastic and trash that comes from our consumption.

A side effect was that the workers collecting our garbage 3-4 times per week never earned any extra money from us. Because we sold everything with value ourselves. So then we started to separate the goods for them instead. We were enabling them to sell plastic, glass and metal without the need to go through our black bags with trash.

Bicycles  at the waste station
Fascinating to see what people sell

A visit to the waste station

Every now and then though we go to sell some recyclables ourselves.

Today was a busy day at the waste dealing station.

I parked the car took out my bags, and immediately, I was swarmed by a group of mainly Burmese /Shan workers picking up anything of value and bringing it to a scale to check the weight. I saw how one of them preferred to keep a plastic water machine gun for her use, though. Now that Thai New Year, Songkran is coming up.

– Maybe you can repair it, but it is already broken I explained.

In an instant, I had a note in my hand and walked into the cashier, where there was already a bit of a queue.

Cash and receipt handed over. Todays harvest gave me 160 baht.

The office at the recycling station
The office where you get the money.
The money we earned from recycling
160 baht today.
Calculations of the recyclable items we sold.
Calculations of the recyclable waste I sold.

In recent years we have seen an improvement that shops hand out fewer plastic bags. Occasionally you have to buy them. In certain supermarkets, you bring your shopping bags or get the goods in huge cardboard boxes.

Another excellent way of recycling is through the various Social Media groups. Like in our community /muu ban, we have groups selling used things.

Future Plans for Thai plastic handling

Thailand already has a roadmap for eliminating non-recyclable plastic.

In 2019, the Thai Cabinet also approved the Roadmap on Plastic Waste Management for 2020 to 2030 as the policy framework for related agencies to work on in pursuit of the targets.

It includes a ban on seven types of single-use plastics and completely recycling the domestic plastic waste within the designated time frames in the roadmap. The simplest way to accomplish the goal to ban three types of single-use plastics – plastic bottle cap seals, oxo-degradable plastics, and plastic microbeads – by the end of 2019 has been achieved.

Some thoughts on the waste situation in Chiang Mai

We will have to see how it all works out. In Chiang Mai, there have been volunteers throughout the years the clean up the city on weekends. Similar groups that we see on specific beaches in the country. For now, it is good to try our best and also support the people that are doing this unthankful job for us by delivering clean bags of recyclables that they can pick up and earn something from the waste. The informal recycling in Thailand.

Of course, there will have to be some change in mentality not to have people throwing plastic waste out of their cars or dumping whatever trash they don’t want to carry in national parks. Nowadays, there are often bins with signs that explain how to separate the garbage. But the bins tend to get overfull without considering how to separate the waste.

Another issue that you live in Thailand is the burning of garbage. Near our community, there has been a long discussion about getting the neighbouring local village to stop burning their trash. It is hard to get to the core of it all. But apparently, they see the burning as practical out of many aspects, and that’s how they always did it. Some people don’t want to pay extra for the bags and handling of the garbage, and some see it as practical to burn plastic because it keeps the mosquitoes away!!

Finally, some statistics according to the World Bank

Its petrochemical sector is the largest in Southeast Asia and the 16th largest in the world, producing 11.8 million tonnes of downstream products — including plastic resins — in 2018. Thailand’s plastics industry contributed US$36.9 billion to the national economy in 2018 (6.71% of GDP).

But mismanaged plastic waste has serious economic and environmental consequences. Asia is responsible for over 80% of plastic leakage into marine environments, and 8 of the top 10 contributing countries are from this region — with Thailand ranking sixth globally, according to some estimates.

Thailand is taking regional leadership by setting ambitious goals to combat the economic and environmental consequences of mismanaged plastic waste. 

Recycling in Thailand has a long way to go. But there is clearly ambition.

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