Martin Hauke, the founder and owner of Phuket-based composting specialist HET Asia, began his 45 minute speech in much the same way as he finished it, in a clinical, scientific and calm manner.
After posing the question of ‘What is compost?’, Mr Haukes proceeded to say that even a specialist such as HET does not currently have any composting equipment to sell.
Mr Hauke explains the reason, “Commercial scale composting does not exist in Thailand. They just incinerate everything.”
As a result of this, Mr Hauke said, the level of dioxins (a class of chemical contaminants that are formed during combustion processes such as waste incineration, forest fires, and burning rubbish) in Phuket was at a dangerous level – 10.48 ng/m3, with the acceptable emission limit level standing around 0.5 in Thailand. In Europe, it is closer to 0.1.
“Dioxins are created by untreated waste. This is the reality of using an incinerator,” said Martin, “This is serious. Dioxins are deadly serious.”
The main aim for the night therefore was to raise awareness of the issue, and to stir emotions and a desire to begin the change at a government level.
Martin said that he had on many occasions tried in vain to accomplish this, and had even spoken to workers at the Phuket incinerator plant, where the concept of composting was met with intrigue and interest yet always fell at the last hurdle.
“When I tell them how much it’s going to cost, I always stop getting reply emails.”
Government officials, believes Martin, don’t like to work with small companies as there is a desire to not change the status quo – regardless of how toxic the situation may be.
It was all the more important therefore for Phuket businesses and residents, starting specifically with the attendees in the meeting room at the A2 hotel in Phuket, to start making a difference.
“Separate the trash at home into separate bags filled with plastic bottles, cans, paper and other metals.
“Do your own back yard composting with compost bins and compartments. Report illegal waste dumps to the police. Report any flagrant misuse, don’t just think it’s Thailand and forget it!”
There was a pause as an awkward silence fell among the 20 or so men in the room, much like stupefied students on the eve of an exam whom believe that they know all of this stuff already and if they didn’t, then it’s too late now anyway right?
Perhaps sensing that Martin’s calm delivery wasn’t having the desired effect on the room, his HET colleague Malcolm Thomson tried another, rather unorthodox method.
“Sorry guys, but it’s a joke. You’re all a joke,” bellowed Malcolm.
“All the GMs on the island for all the best hotels, none can give me a straight answer of where all their waste goes! Into the sea, in landfills. They don’t know!”
The exams were coming – like it or not. It was clearly time for some cold hard truths.
“Let’s face it, anybody who tries to do much against the natural order of things are scared about getting a visit in the middle of the night!”
It was enough to stir discussion amongst all in attendance.
Attendees referenced the good work that was being done in Koh Yao Noi, recycling reward cards for Rawai residents, and even the work of Thailand’s scavengers (see Environment, January 11 issue).
One attendee posed the question as to whether Martin and Malcolm would be so passionate if they weren’t working in the industry, or had something financially to gain from it.
However, it was quite clear to everyone that all of us living here have something to gain from recycling, composting and environmentally sustainable living. All Martin and Malcolm wanted to know was, ‘What are we prepared to do to make it happen?’.