Kenya could show Thailand how to tackle its plastic trash problem

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The East African nation of Kenya has the potential to become a role model for Thailand when it comes to curb the exorbitant use of plastic bag across the country and the unavoidable serious pollution and other trouble it creates.

Kenya’s government just issued a decree banning the production, sale, distribution and even use of plastic bags countrywide. Violators will be slammed with fines of between $18,500 and $37,000 and, in extreme cases, face jail time of up to four years. It is the strictest law against plastic bags globally.

The government in Nairobi said it had no other choice than to issue such a law to cope with around 100 million plastic bags daily landing as garbage on the streets, clogging water and sewage pipes, polluting rivers and ending up in stomachs of animals that eat them and subsequently die.

Kenya is among a growing number of countries that declared an outright ban on plastic bags, with others being Italy, Morocco, Mauretania and Myanmar, and some that have local restrictions such as Canada, the U.S., China, India, Australia, the Philippines, South Africa and Brazil.

However, one country that is seen as one of the largest plastic bag polluters in the world still has no regulations whatsoever on the issue even after decades of being aware of the problem: Thailand.

According to statistics, the average resident in Thailand uses eight plastic bags and packages a day since almost everything, not just groceries, but also street food, snacks and even soft drinks, are filled in plastic containers of all sizes.

Across Thailand that means 500 million bags and packages a day. The average bag is in use for just twelve minutes but it takes 500 (in water) to 1000 years (on air) for it to fully decompose. In the meantime, they keep clogging waterways and drains during the rainy season and fill up the Gulf of Thailand with kilometer-long islands of plastic waste.

The problem is that producing plastic bags and packages is a huge industry in Thailand, one of the few in which the country is a leading player in the global market, and there are big business interests behind it. The list of plastic bags producers in Thailand is endless, and they are well-connected with policy makers.

Campaigns by Thai authorities to reduce the distribution of plastic bags have therefore been unsuccessful so far, and retailers and shopping malls currently have very few policies in place to deal with the issue. For example, staff at the odd 7-Eleven store seems to have instructions to give out as many plastic bags and straws as possible for a handful of groceries.

However, experts are not sure whether a radical law such as in Kenya could tackle the problem, since Thailand is known for its rather lax attitude towards state rules. The problem could rather be met with incentives or discounts for shoppers who use cloth-made bags and the threat for retailers that they would lose their business license if they keep handing out enormous amount of plastic bags on daily basis. Producer could be encouraged to use biodegradable materials for bags, and a deposit and recycling system should be put in place.

The problem is the fast-changing administrative environment in Thailand, with ministers, city governors and other supposedly responsible officials shifting posts every little while, which makes the implementation of long-term policies tricky since this allows no consistent policies, let alone encourages political accountability.

 

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

The East African nation of Kenya has the potential to become a role model for Thailand when it comes to curb the exorbitant use of plastic bag across the country and the unavoidable serious pollution and other trouble it creates.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The East African nation of Kenya has the potential to become a role model for Thailand when it comes to curb the exorbitant use of plastic bag across the country and the unavoidable serious pollution and other trouble it creates.

Kenya’s government just issued a decree banning the production, sale, distribution and even use of plastic bags countrywide. Violators will be slammed with fines of between $18,500 and $37,000 and, in extreme cases, face jail time of up to four years. It is the strictest law against plastic bags globally.

The government in Nairobi said it had no other choice than to issue such a law to cope with around 100 million plastic bags daily landing as garbage on the streets, clogging water and sewage pipes, polluting rivers and ending up in stomachs of animals that eat them and subsequently die.

Kenya is among a growing number of countries that declared an outright ban on plastic bags, with others being Italy, Morocco, Mauretania and Myanmar, and some that have local restrictions such as Canada, the U.S., China, India, Australia, the Philippines, South Africa and Brazil.

However, one country that is seen as one of the largest plastic bag polluters in the world still has no regulations whatsoever on the issue even after decades of being aware of the problem: Thailand.

According to statistics, the average resident in Thailand uses eight plastic bags and packages a day since almost everything, not just groceries, but also street food, snacks and even soft drinks, are filled in plastic containers of all sizes.

Across Thailand that means 500 million bags and packages a day. The average bag is in use for just twelve minutes but it takes 500 (in water) to 1000 years (on air) for it to fully decompose. In the meantime, they keep clogging waterways and drains during the rainy season and fill up the Gulf of Thailand with kilometer-long islands of plastic waste.

The problem is that producing plastic bags and packages is a huge industry in Thailand, one of the few in which the country is a leading player in the global market, and there are big business interests behind it. The list of plastic bags producers in Thailand is endless, and they are well-connected with policy makers.

Campaigns by Thai authorities to reduce the distribution of plastic bags have therefore been unsuccessful so far, and retailers and shopping malls currently have very few policies in place to deal with the issue. For example, staff at the odd 7-Eleven store seems to have instructions to give out as many plastic bags and straws as possible for a handful of groceries.

However, experts are not sure whether a radical law such as in Kenya could tackle the problem, since Thailand is known for its rather lax attitude towards state rules. The problem could rather be met with incentives or discounts for shoppers who use cloth-made bags and the threat for retailers that they would lose their business license if they keep handing out enormous amount of plastic bags on daily basis. Producer could be encouraged to use biodegradable materials for bags, and a deposit and recycling system should be put in place.

The problem is the fast-changing administrative environment in Thailand, with ministers, city governors and other supposedly responsible officials shifting posts every little while, which makes the implementation of long-term policies tricky since this allows no consistent policies, let alone encourages political accountability.

 

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