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Cash in that trash

How to be part of the solution for Phuket’s mounting waste issue

natural-resourcespollutionopinion
By Steven Layne

Sunday 1 March 2015, 12:38PM


Phuket officials recently received approval for a request of half-a-billion-baht to repair the island’s old, and currently-defunct incinerator, and thus address what they say is an “impending crisis”. The old incinerator had been taken off-line after it was damaged for “over-use”.

Now, the second and current incinerator is running at full capacity, burning some 700 tonnes of our solid waste every day, the same amount of which is brought to the facility day-in, day-out.

As the amount of waste continues to rise in sync with an expanding population, which is growing as much as 10 per cent annually, our dilemma persists. At this rate, Phuket will be back to square one in just three years, with its incinerators operating at maximum capacity again, and thus causing the the already-overflowing landfills to mount even higher.

Even the more conservative annual growth rate projections of 7pc, give us only about five years, before we’re at critical mass again – that’s a B100-million-a-year stop-gap solution funded by you, me and the rest of the taxpayers.

But anyone with a little bit of common sense would agree that the solution to the island’s waste issue does not solely lie in our capacity to dispose (bury or burn) garbage, but more in our ability to manage it.

It is estimated that half of the rubbish being burnt at the incinerator is organic waste – vegetation, wood, spoiled produce and leftovers – much of it which is wet and thus requiring more energy to burn off. The rest of it is all the other filthy plastic and packaging remnants of the 21st century’s mass consumer hangover.

The good news is ordinary folks like you and I can be part of the solution, not just the problem. Education and awareness are key, and here are some guidelines.

•Check your consumer habits. Do you really need that iced-coffee in a single-use plastic cup, with a plastic straw, and that trendy little plastic handle, every morning to start work? And to have one or two little items at the convenience store placed in a bag? Consider getting reusable cloth bags, and beverage and food containers instead.

•Stop supporting irresponsible consumer packaging. Individually-wrapped snacks, crisps, candy bars and most food-like products found at the convenience store – all the left-over plastic wrappers and food packages are generally not recycled here (see notes below).

•Eat quality food that doesn’t generate waste. Most people are in a rush these days and insist on eating their meals in polystyrene containers. Did you know that polystyrene is the only type of plastic that no recycling depot in Phuket will buy from you? It has zero value in the recycle market, at least in Southern Thailand where there are no manufacturers with buy-back policies.

•Make a dedicated trip to your local recycling depot, and earn some extra income, if not for retirement for your kid or a rainy day. Sort your crap out ahead of time to save time. The depots will buy almost everything in your bin – bottles, batteries, paper packages, tin, alumnium, steel and plastics (barring polystyrene) – as long as everything is clearly sorted and not contaminated (wet).

•If you can’t be bothered going to a depot, at least support a local "agent" who can be bothered. Many poor people here make a living off your laziness. You can see them in Saleng motorbike with side-cart driving around town, going through the bins, collecting rubbish for re-sell. Some of them will buy directly from you at lower-than-market value; but all are happy to receive your recyclables for free too.

I recently made the trip to Phuket’s largest recycling depot and separation plant, Wong Panit, located in Kathu (Geo: 7.912079, 98.351838 Tel: 076 203271). Here’s what I loaded into my car and sold for B215.

  • Mixed glass (mostly beer bottles of varying brands): @ 50 satang per kilogramme, I got B6.85 for 13.7kg.
  • Cardboard boxes: @ B4/kg, I got B23.6 for 5.9kg
  • Black and white paper: @B7/kg, I got B28 for 4kg
  • Colour newspaper/magazines: @B2/kg, I got B2.8 for 1.4kg
  • Bundled up plastic bags: @50 satang/kg, I got 35 satang for 700 grams
  • Aluminium cans: @B37/kg, I got B99.9 for 2.7kg
  • Tin cans (iced coffee and soup cans): @B4/kg, I got B9.2 for 2.3kg
  • Light steel: @B5/kg, I got B45 for 9kg

Had I just disposed of it all at the incinerator, I would have had to pay B20 (@ B500 a tonne). For my next depot visit, I plan to sell off old batteries and different types of plastic bottles and containers, which I shall relay about in a future issue. Watch this space.

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t.flindt | 13 March 2015 - 08:24:50

I forgot to include the restaurants and hotel, resort, guesthouse business into this. They can make a big difference.
I myself do run a resort in Rawai, i do recycle and compost. For the last 5 years, I have recycled and composted more than 2 tons a year. My resort is only with 18 bungalows. Multiply this by the number of hotels, resort etc on Phuket, and there should be no problems about the Phu...

t.flindt | 13 March 2015 - 08:17:33

It will take time to change the system that people are using now.
I see one way to start solve this problem.
1. All schools student shall have a period of 1-2 months' education on how to take care of home waste. This should include field trips to recycle businesses and the incinerator. They should hear from marine officials about what waste does to the environment on land and in the sea, and...

Michelle | 02 March 2015 - 11:49:53

Great article.  I completely agree that we all need to manage our waste and review our consumer habits.  I've been recycling since my visit to the old incinerator in 2003.  Really thinking about and living the 3R's is vital!  REDUCING - using less, REUSING - using things again and RECYCLING - separating and selling things that can be made into other things. Left over food can be fed to d...

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