In 2016, in a report to the UN, the Thai government admitted that the total amount of garbage finding its way into the sea was estimated at 2.83 million tons, of which it said 12% was plastic. Those figures can be taken with a pinch of salt, but last year Thailand recognised that the nation generated 27.4mn tons of waste, of which 2mn tons was plastic.
The effect is damming – as are the giant garbage patches accumulating in the world’s ocean’s. National Geographic reported four years ago that so much plastic was flowing into the oceans that 90% of seabirds were eating plastic and that virtually every seabird will be eating it by 2050. If seabirds are not your concern, what do you think fish are eating?
Staggering as the numbers are, reporting them – and they have been reported everywhere, and often – has done little to achieve the great anti-plastic revolution everyone is waiting for. The truth of the matter is that a change in the mentality that widespread consumption of single-use plastics is acceptable must go – and that is where the great challenge lies, people do not want to change. For now, plastic bags are just too convenient.
If even the Thai government recognises that most marine plastic debris is land-based, caused by inefficient waste management and poor handling of plastic wastes, there are no prizes for guessing where the bulk of the plastic in the oceans is coming from: look for your nearest densely populated area.
According to data from the Environmental Quality Promotion Department, the average Bangkokian uses a mind-boggling 8.7 bags a day. Major retailers have agreed to join in the campaign to encourage customers to bring their own re-usable bags but so far the effect has been negligible.
We need financial incentives for major industries to reduce plastic use. Last year the Thai government told the UN that it has established a 20-year strategy to tackle the problem, including developing financial incentives reducing plastic use and encouraging eco-friendly substitutes for plastics. So bring it on!