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Phuket’s plastic pollution problem

As you sip your iced coffee in its single-use plastic cup, which you carried in with that cute little pink plastic handle, you delve into your hot breakfast from your polystyrene container. Fried rice is a little bland today, perhaps you’ll go for something with a little more kick at lunch. You don’t really have time to go out, but luckily “grandma” has you covered for takeaway. Finished, you toss the remnants into the bin, away and out of sight, out of mind. But consider this.

By Steven Layne

Sunday 19 April 2015, 09:00AM

A study published last month in Science Magazine about sources of plastic in the ocean has dire implications about the planet’s coastal populations, especially Southeast Asia, Thailand and Phuket.

According to “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean”, Thailand contributes as much as 410,000 metric tonnes of plastic to the ocean in a single year – that’s 410 million kilogrammes!
The research, which was conducted by a Scientific working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), with support from the Washington, D.C.-based Ocean Conservancy, is quite alarming when put into perspective.

Much of the initial media spotlight was on the world’s biggest plastic waste contributor to oceans – China – and even though Thailand, in number six on the list, seems like an angel in comparison, lets try to fathom the statistical reality.

On average, each one of the 26 million people living within 50 kilometres of the ocean in Thailand contributes 15.7 kg of plastic to the ocean every year!

From this figure, we can extrapolate that Phuket’s annual plastic contribution to the ocean is as much as 15.7 million kilogrammes!

That’s the weight of about one billion single-use “disposable” plastic cups for iced-coffee, or three billion plastic bags!

And that’s just Phuket.

According to the study, some 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with no less than 4.8 million MT, but possibly as much as 12.7 million MT making its way into the ocean.


“We estimate that 2.5 billion MT of municipal solid waste was generated in 2010 by 6.4 billion people living in 192 coastal countries (93 per cent of the global population). This estimate is broadly consistent with an estimated 1.3 billion MT of waste generated by 3 billion people in urban centers globally (5). Approximately 11 per cent (275 million MT) of the waste generated by the total population of these 192 countries is plastic,” the report revealed.

In Thailand, an estimated 26 million people living within 50km of the coast generate some 1.2 kilogrammes of waste per person per day, 12 per cent of which is plastic waste.

The study estimated that 75pc of this waste was “mismanaged”, which equates to 1.03 million MT.
At best case, that’s just under 2pc of the total amount of plastic leached into the ocean worldwide in a single year, but as much as 3pc.

Keep in mind, Thailand doesn’t even make up 1pc of the planet’s population – 0.9 pc to be precise.
In sum, the study estimates that Thailand’s annual contribution of plastic waste to the ocean is between 150,000 to 410,000 tonnes. Don’t let the tonnes fool you – that’s 150 to 410 million kilogrammes of our society’s unchecked petrochemical convenience!

The waste that doesn’t end up in the ocean is either burned to a crisp, if not buried in a landfill, where it will take hundreds if not thousands of years to break down.

But don’t worry, there’s no real incentive to change your habits in Phuket – the taxpayers have you covered with half a billion baht budget having just been approved to bring the old incinerator online.

This will allow the city municipality to burn even more of your consumer convenience for maybe up to five more years before critical mass is reached again.

So please, give all this a thought next time you enjoy that iced-coffee and lunch in a single-use plastic container.

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