According to the UN Environment Program (UNEP), around 400 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced annually worldwide. Of the seven billion tonnes of plastic waste generated globally so far (since the 1950s), less than 10 per cent has been recycled.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad


Story: Radda Larpnun
Photos: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
The Photo Essay series: SDGs I The Depth of Field
APRIL 25, 2023

All Thai factories ordered to go ‘green’ by 2025
Germany assists Thailand to ‘go green’
52 factories expected to join eco-friendly efforts
Thailand pushes biodegradable plastic bag research commercialization
Production moves away from plastic
Bottled water makers welcome cap seal ban
Declaring war on plastic waste
Collaboration Key to Ending Plastic Waste

From 2018 to 2022 news headlines in Thailand, seen above, related to progress on responsible consumption and production under the UN’s SDG12, are a reflection of the country making strenuous efforts to tackle waste management, but plastic waste is still an issue!

According to the Pollution Control Department (PCD), Thailand produces around two million tonnes of plastic waste annually, or around 12% of the country’s total waste. Only 25% or 0.5 million tonnes is recycled, the rest is disposed in landfills and incinerators as well as leaking to the environment. In 2018 and 2019, the country was ranked 6th and 10th for polluting the ocean with marine plastic.

Thailand Environment Institute (TEI) notes that since 2014, Thailand has made waste management a national priority. Part of the country’s master plan developed that year was the establishment of a national committee along with working groups each with the goal of attaining 100% recycling of “targeted plastic” by 2030. Additional action plans that began in 2018 include the discontinuation of plastic cap seals and the use of micro-beads.

The institute further notes that government campaigns since 2020 have focused on phasing out plastic bags at a thickness of fewer than 36 microns, and plastic cups at less than 100 microns, as well as limiting the use of foam boxes as food containers and use of plastic straws, all of which are single-use plastics. However, this has been made more difficult during the Covid-19 pandemic owing to an increased reliance on single-use plastics for food delivery services.

The Sustainable Development Report 2022, “From Crisis to sustainable development: the SDGs as Roadmap to 2030 and Beyond”, cited that the trend of ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns in Thailand remains a significant challenge in maintaining SDG achievement. While electronic waste is a major challenge, municipal solid and plastic waste closely follow.

SDG 12 – “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns” – has a monitoring framework of 11 targets and 13 indicators. Unmanaged consumption and production can contribute to the depletion of natural resources. 1. Sustainable consumption and production (SCP) require a fundamental shift in how we use services and products, including product lifecycle thinking. SCP means trying to “do more and better with less”. 2. Increasing the quality of life while decreasing the impact of production on the environment due to pollution, waste and degradation.

Sustainable consumption and production have been a part of the global development agenda since the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 and was defined in 1994 at the Oslo Symposium.

Because SCP reflects a significant shift away from our current ‘take-make-dispose’ culture, systemic change is necessary. It requires shifting from a traditional economic growth model to a ‘circular economy approach based on three things: designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems.

Recycling and reusing resources, energy efficiency and value-chain optimization, are all examples of how this shift can be implemented.

SDG 12 can only be achieved by treating all the SDGs as interconnected. Given SDG 12’s connection with environmental impacts and economic growth, it is also connected to SDGs 6 (Clean Water), 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), 13 (Climate Change), 14 (Life below Water) and 15 (Life on Land), among others.

Despite all efforts, our waste, especially plastic is still pretty much an issue! 

In just a 15-minute walk to explore Klong Toei Fresh Market, a lot of single-use plastic is spread along the side of the road. But plastic does have multiple uses in food preservation, such as preventing it from rotting and keeping it fresh. This is another food-waste management problem. However, selecting the right amount of plastic for our needs is a matter for urgent consideration of society. In particular, usage in households is responsible for generating enormous quantities of plastic.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

Five trillion is the number of plastic bags produced worldwide annually. It can take up to 1,000 years for these bags to decompose completely. By switching to reusable shopping bags,  this is equivalent toa reduction of the amount of plastic waste by 307 bags per person, Earth Day cites the estimate done by the US based Factory Direct Promos.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
The UNEP estimates that 75 to 199 million tonnes of plastic is currently found in our oceans. Unless we change how we produce, use and dispose of plastic, the amount of plastic waste entering aquatic ecosystems could nearly triple from 9-14 million tonnes per year in 2016 to a projected 23-37 million tonnes per year by 2040, the UN environment agency notes.
Many countries still need more infrastructure and systems for effective plastic waste management, such as sanitary landfilling or waste incineration, recycling capacity and circular economy infrastructure.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
Approximately 36 per cent of all plastics produced are used in packaging, including single-use plastic products for food and beverage containers, approximately 85 per cent of which ends up in landfills or as unregulated waste.
Simply put, around one million plastic bottles are used every minute ( or 60 million bottles every hour), according to the UNEP. 
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
Plastic waste landfilling is one of the most effective ways to manage it. However, the latest research points out that these plastics will gradually break down into micro-toxic particles that will contaminate soil and water, and which can enter the food chain when animals eat them. A research report in Germany as cited by UNEP indicates that land-based microplastics can be 4 to 23 times more polluting than ocean-based microplastics (depending on the environment), ultimately damaging human health in the long run.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

This is the 5th year that Daoporn Laiphanich, 66, has been responsible for sorting plastic bottles at Chak Daeng Temple, Samut Prakan province. Plastic bottle recycling also creates jobs and income for people in many sectors. The trend in Thailand has continued to grow. In 2022, there were 725 more entrepreneurs than the previous year, most of which were small and medium-sized enterprises, accounting for 97.7% of all entrepreneurs.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

Fifteen recycled plastic bottles can be used to make one robe, while 60 recycled plastic bottles are used for a set of tri-robes. The Chak Deang Temple in Samut Prakan province is accepting plastic waste donations and creating a new context in plastic waste management and environmental awareness suitable for the importance of merit-making in Thai society.

Recycled robes are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottle waste through the process of upcycling recycled polyester fibre (recycled polyester) and weaved together with cotton fibres and antibacterial polyester zinc fibres. After that, Wat Chak Daeng Community Enterprise sews them into robes, which are comfortable to wear in hot and humid weather, they dry quickly, and are not easily wrinkled.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

Apart from recycled robes, Wat Chak Daeng Community Enterprise also brings fabric from recycled plastic bottles for sewing into other products, such as blankets. Efforts to reduce waste have helped develop new products and created value for the community.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
The source of recycling and waste management is waste separation. However, a lack of understanding and attention to waste separation is a big problem in Thai society. In addition, some environments could be more conducive to the household level. 
Recycle Day is another project through which Thailand is attempting to reduce the complexity of waste separation to make it easy to execute and accessible by establishing a comprehensive waste management truck calling system. The system will guide on how to separate waste easily with an application to call a car to pick up garbage at home by creating a waste pickup point that is easily accessible to people, including a list of factories to receive waste.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad
Efficient waste management and recycling are not an option but a necessity. The current waste separation and recycling processes are simple. There are garbage pickup points scattered around with knowledge that is easily accessible. It is also an opportunity to generate income and innovation. The other aspects are awareness and attention to the problem of overflowing waste and taking action.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

In Thai society, we prefer convenience as the primary service business. Refill Station, Thailand’s first bulk store, has been against the trend for many years, believing that solving environmental problems requires cooperation in every aspect of society, especially in reducing plastic waste at the household level. Refill Station offers a form of trading of various liquid products such as shampoo, liquid soap, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, etc, where buyers must bring their own containers from home. In addition to reducing single-use plastic, it invites everyone to take joint responsibility for environmental problems.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

Sustainable Map, an art piece created from leftover materials and garbage such as plastic water bottle caps, snack bags, rags, laundry detergent bags, etc, totalling more than 200 kilograms, is on display at Charoen Krung Road Soi 31, Talat Noi subdistrict, Samphanthawong district in Bangkok. It is the work of Wichulada Pantaranuwong, an artist who transforms waste materials into works of art, believing that art can reflect and help tackle environmental problems. Although there are many projects to recycle plastic, art can raise awareness by reaching out to the wider society.
Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production)
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Since being conceived in 1992 during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, “sustainable development” has become a buzzword that has helped guide development around the world. The goals have followed a steady trajectory of increased emphasis — from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, strengthening the world’s new development paradigm. At the heart of the SDGs addressed by the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are 17 key goals that call for action by all countries to end poverty and other deprivations. These must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth — all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests, according to the UN. The only challenge is: how to translate all those goals into a strong commitment and action. To flesh out the ideas so that people can understand them easily and therefore take action, Bangkok Tribune has come up with a new project: “SDGs I The Depth of Field”, using its signature style of photojournalism — storytelling through photo essays — to interpret and translate the ideas and challenges behind the goals into powerful visual stories told through the lenses of noted photographers.