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Recycling plastic bottles, batteries in Phuket

I recently returned to the island’s main recycling depot to talk and sell plastic.

By Steven Layne

Saturday 11 April 2015, 09:00AM

Following up on my previous trip to Phuket’s largest recycling depot, Wong Panit in Kathu – where I sold some aluminium and tin cans, plastic bags, old newspaper and cardboard for B215 – I recently returned to sell off some plastic bottles and old batteries.

Reinventing the wheel

I loaded up about two hundred empty PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) water bottles into the back of my truck. My wife suggested I separate the lids because the type of plastic they’re made out of (usually HDPE or High-density polyethylene) is supposed fetch a better price – so she was told at a recent environmental seminar. Logically it makes sense, as HDPE and PET are two separate types of plastic, with the former being much more valuable on the world market.

According to recycleinme.com, as of March 30, HDPE resin fetches about US$2.50 (B80) per kg, while PET, due to its abundance, sells by the tonne at $1,896, which works out to $1.89 (B60) per kg.

To my disappointment, Wong Panit Phuket staffers insisted on classifying the HDPE caps as generic “coloured plastic” (พลาสติกสี), which only pays B8 per kilo, compared to B10 per kilo for clear PET bottles. According to them, any coloured plastic, irregardless of what type of plastic it is, is worth the same amount in Phuket.

Surely, clearly marked HDPE deserves its own price? After all, plastic categorization procedures have been standard internationally for decades; I even pointed out to the staffer how the caps were clearly marked with a number 2-triangle, just as the PET bottles are marked with a 1-triangle.

But here in Phuket they have their own way of doing things. The staffer told me that most people just sell the clear PET bottles complete with cap, and considering the higher rate for clear PET, I’ll make sure I don’t waste my time unscrewing the caps off next time!

In the end, I was paid the disadvantageous rate of B16 for 2 kilos of “coloured plastic” which included both HDPE bottle caps and a few old shampoo and automobile oil bottles (also clearly marked as HDPE). Meanwhile, 3.8kg of PET bottles yielded B38.

Based on the HDPE and PET market rates mentioned above, the plastic resin in 5.8kg – once reprocessed for industry resell – would have a value of B388. That’s 10 times more than I got in Phuket. Guess that’s how Wong Panit and others survive.

Aside from these, I also had a few dozen off-white, opaque plastic bottles used to bottle locally produced water. While they aren’t marked to clearly identify what type of plastic they are, according to an internet query, they are most likely a type of PE or Polyethylene. In Thai, they are called “Kuat Koon” literally “opaque bottle”, and of all the types of plastic bottles, fetch the highest price in Phuket at B18 per kilo.

Since the bottles are in demand locally, they theoretically would not need to be transported all the way up to Central Thailand like other types of plastic.

Sound measures

In previous research, I had been told about a water float test local depots use to identify certain types of unidentified plastic. In short, Thais have once again ignored existing standards to creatively invent yet another category for plastic – “plastic grorp” – literally the “crisp plastic” (พลาสติกกรอบ) category, which includes cd cases, tape cases and some disposable plastic cups (which could be PVC or PP among others).


To determine whether the plastic is “crisp”, two tests are performed. Seasoned “experts” perform a sound test by flicking a piece of the plastic. If it echoes, it’s crisp. If still unsure, they can perform the float test, which entails cutting a small piece of the plastic and putting it in water.

If the piece sinks, it’s crisp, if it floats, it’s classified as general “colour” category, which has a slightly higher value than the crisp plastic, the staffer noted.

Cashing out

Aside from the plastic, I also sold a kilo of coloured cardboard packaging (various consumer product boxes), which yielded B2; this was in addition to 800 grams worth of aluminum cans (B29.6 @ B37 per kilo) plus another 200g of tin cans (70 satang @ B3.5 / kilo).

Last but certainly not least were the old batteries. While they didn’t want anything to do with a bottle full of old alkaline AA and D batteries (officially classified as toxic waste), they bought my old, 7Ah dry-cell lead acid battery (the kind of battery you’d find in your computer power saver box), as well as an old discarded motorcycle battery.

Both of these batteries had been long past their shelf life. Previously I had been using them as back up power for solar lights, but being as they were starting to leak acid, it was about time to sell them to someone who could properly restore if not dispose them.

And they made this particular trip worth the petrol. Together weighing in at 3.9kg (see tips below), these two batteries yielded B85.8 @ 22 per kilo. I’m told old car batteries fetch B24 per kilo, and so for a car battery that weighs 15kg, that’s B424!

Some parting advice

Separate everything as best as you can. If you mix items from separate categories, then you might end up getting paid the lower rate for the whole lot. This can make a big difference in some cases, for example, aluminium cans (soda and beer) which pay as much as 10 times more than tin cans (iced coffee and soup).

Pre-weigh your items. One idea is to use a scale at home, or if you have one, bring in a small weight to check their scales. While I can’t verify my suspicions of rigged scales, a few of my weigh-ins seemed skimpy, especially for the higher-value aluminum cans and batteries. So if you have a 1kg weight, for example, put it on the scale to make sure it’s calibrated correctly.

If you have a large load of one type of item, ask to weigh your entire vehicle initially and when you leave, which is standard for large vehicles any way. This way you can compare your final receipt weight to the initial weight to ensure that everything was accounted for.

Now I’m not trying to promote paranoya; however, honesty, transparency and accountability are all too often overlooked here, and Phuket is one place that sure could use a lot more of these qualities.

That’s all for now. Happy recycling!

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Christy_S | 02 May 2015 - 07:54:35

Great report, thanks for it- but what to do with unwanted batteries? 


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