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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: 15 practical ways to break the plastic habit

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: 15 practical ways to break the plastic habit

Just a few decades ago, plastic was touted as a miracle material. It’s strong, waterproof, lightweight and easy to mould. But exactly 150 years since its creation it has become a scourge on the planet and is responsible for the deaths of an estimated one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals annually.

By Palmer Owyoung

Saturday 26 October 2019, 03:00PM

Carrying your own bags, bottles and containers might be inconvenient, but it’s a small price to pay for clean air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. Photo: Mladen Antonov / AFP

Carrying your own bags, bottles and containers might be inconvenient, but it’s a small price to pay for clean air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. Photo: Mladen Antonov / AFP

It takes approximately 500 years for a single piece of plastic to degrade, which means that every single plastic bag, bottle, cup, straw or toothbrush that you have ever used in your life is sitting in landfill, on a beach or at the bottom of the ocean.

Scientists are finding microplastics in the food we eat, the water we drink and even in the air we breathe. According to a study by the University of Newcastle, Australia, the average human consumes about a credit card’s (5 grams) worth of plastic every week. Unfortunately, there haven’t been any long-term studies done to tell us what this is doing to our health.

Recycling isn’t always the answer because plastic is downcycled, meaning that it can only be reused six times before it becomes unusable. Even when it is “recycled”, it’s turned into things like board shorts, which shed microfibres when you wash them.

Biodegradable plastic isn’t an ideal solution either. It perpetuates a “buy-and-throw-away” mentality and requires sunlight to breakdown. Those made from corn or potato starch contribute to an increase in food prices, land use, pesticides and fertilisers.

So, what can you do? Here are 15 ways that you can reduce your plastic footprint.

1. Just say no

The best waste is the waste that we never create. Everything that you use has a footprint, whether it comes from the CO2 during the transportation and manufacturing it or the pesticides and fertilisers from growing it. If you don’t need a bag, bottle, stir stick or straw, don’t take one. To say “I don’t want plastic” in Thai, say “My ow plas-teek.”

2. Sign petitions

Go to and search for “Join the fight against plastic pollution” sponsored by the WWF. You can also search under “Coca-Cola, your plastic waste is choking us.” Then go to and search for #NoFreePlastic – this is directed at Thailand’s Minister of Natural Resources and asks the government to charge for plastic bags.

3. Eat less fish

A survey conducted by NGO The Ocean Cleanup found that 46% of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was discarded fishing nets. These “ghost nets” can continue to kill marine mammals for years to come. Until a solution is found, reducing your consumption of fish or not eating it all are the only options. If that doesn’t convince you, understand that fish can also be contaminated with microplastics, antibiotics, mercury and other toxins.

4. Carry a backpack or reusable bags everywhere

Get about a dozen and leave a handful in your car and some by the door of your house as a reminder. In addition to buying reusable bags for groceries, buy some smaller ones for produce. If you want to say “I don’t want a bag” in Thai, it’s “My ow toong.”

5. Stop buying bottled water

Instead, carry a reusable water bottle or cup everywhere. There are water machines in every town centre around Phuket that filter using UV light and only cost B1 per litre. You can also buy an inexpensive water filter for less than B850 at For restaurants, bars, hotels and offices, Generation Water sells a machine that creates drinking water out of thin air.

6. Boycott companies that are the worst offenders

A 2018 survey conducted by Greenpeace found that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé were the worst plastic polluters in the world. Send a message to them by not buying their products (this includes all of their brands and subsidiaries as well).

7. Reuse when you can

Plastic bottles and glass jars make great places to store coins, stationery, plants, soap, shampoo, cleansers and general knick-knacks.

8. Recycle when you can’t

Even though recycling plastic isn’t ideal, sometimes it’s unavoidable. You can take plastic to several recycling facilities around the island. A list of them can be found here. In addition to plastic, they will also take glass, metal, cardboard and paper.

Dan About Thailand

9. Volunteer

There are beach clean-ups almost every week. Two that you can join are Trash Trash Hero Phuket and Clean The Beach Bootcamp. Follow the links to find out when the next clean-up is.

10. Shop at zero-waste stores

Zero Waste Phuket and Zero Waste Shop Phuket are both located in Thalang. They sell an assortment of household cleaners and toiletries as well as plastic substitutes. Bring containers to refill and you are charged by weight.

11. Support businesses that are trying to go plastic-free

Two large hotel chains that have banned straws and toiletry bottles at their properties are Marriott and Hilton. Some local businesses that are doing it right include Gallery Café, Wilson’s Cafe, Project Artisan, Vegan Booty Burger and Sea Bees Diving, to name a few. Research businesses before using their services.

12. Say no to plastic wrap

SuperBee wax wraps are an eco-friendly alternative, and it pays women in Chiang Mai a living wage to make them. They work great with anything you would use with plastic wrap. You can find them at the Zero Waste Shop Phuket or online at

13. If you are a restaurant/café/bar/hotel owner/manager, move to biodegradable or reusable cutlery and packaging

You can purchase these at also sells a big selection of non-toxic containers and, of course, you can go to and search under “bio-degradable”.

14. Repair rather than replace

We throw out a lot of things that can simply be repaired. For example, you can fix the broken zip on a backpack with a paper clip and some Sugru. Many plastic products can be fixed with duct tape or super glue, and you can replace the insoles of your shoes rather than buying new ones. There are plenty of YouTube videos with instructions on how to fix household items.

15. Download the Eevie app

This is an eco-habit tracker that will remind you to reuse your cups, bottles and bags and make you more aware of your daily habits.

Innovations in science and technology may eventually help rid us of the scourge of plastic. In Ecuador, they’ve discovered a mushroom that can digest it, and in the United States, two students have engineered a bacteria that breaks it down into CO2 and water.

However, none of these solutions is a foregone conclusion. If we want the future to have less trash, we have to work towards it, which means making conscientious choices every day.

Reduce, reuse, recycle needs to become our mantra. Yes, it is inconvenient having to carry your own bags, bottles and containers, but it’s a small price to pay for clean air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat.

So don’t forget to say “My ow plas-teek.”

Palmer Owyoung is an environmental activist working with the Kamala Green Club and the Asia Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) to keep Phuket beautiful and clean.


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HULI | 26 October 2019 - 20:14:14

Wonderful Idea and we have invented recycled EPS reuse for years and have brought a building system to Thailand including patent pending. Also worked with a reputable Bangkok University - we received the TGO CO2 Certificate for real Green Building Material. But this all doesn't count because developer don't care & government does not realy push! it's a pity, but that's reality!

Christy Sweet | 26 October 2019 - 19:10:47

Preaching to the choir- tell it to my Thai neighbors who are incapable of not littering. Dozens of instant coffee packets wash down onto my property  How many get into the waterways and then onward to a sea creatures' gullet?  TrashLand 


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