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Sustainably Yours: Building a Sustainable Phuket - Part 2

Last week, in Part 1 of this special report, we talked about improving environmental education, public transportation, creating walking spaces and adding wind and solar to build a sustainable Phuket. This week, we talk about fixing the food system, improving waste management and job skills.

By Palmer Owyoung

Sunday 27 February 2022, 02:00PM

Fixing the Food System

A study by the Food and Land Use Coalition estimates that when you add up all of the negative externalities including excessive water usage, damage from agrochemicals, soil loss, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity and health care our current agricultural system causes US$12 trillion in damage per year. If we don’t radically reform our diets and our global system of food production, it won’t matter how many solar panels or wind turbines that we install, they won’t be enough to create a sustainable world.

The overuse of pesticides and fertilisers is likely to be at least a contributing factor in the recent and recurring algae blooms that we see in Phuket. In addition to eating less meat and moving to a plant-based diet, we can help reduce our impact by composting our organic waste, which reduces the need for pesticides and fertilisers and improves the quality of the soil. To encourage people to compost, Prince of Songkla University is selling inexpensive bins and teaching communities how to use them.

To replace the destructive fishing industry we can create seaweed and shellfish farms that filter and clean the water as they have done in New York and other parts of the east coast of the United States. We could also build rooftop farms that localise food production and cool the building, thus reducing air conditioning costs.

For the time being, you can help to support local farmers by buying from the Phuket Farmers Club, which uses a network of small farms, that ensures that your food isn’t treated with agrochemicals. 

Reducing Plastic Waste

We could begin by reducing the use of single-use bottles by promoting the use of water filters at home and in restaurants. In London, San Francisco, and parts of Southern California they have begun installing drinking fountains at parks, schools, and other venues.

We could do this in Phuket, but instead of installing expensive water fountains, we can get restaurants and businesses willing to install filters on their taps to act as refill stations. We could build a mobile app with their GPS location. In exchange, they get free advertising and foot traffic from thirsty potential customers who wish to fill their water bottles.

Some people believe that water that isn’t sealed in a plastic bottle is unhygienic, but the opposite is true. According to the WHO, 93% of bottled water carries microplastics, including the biggest brands. A study by the Environmental Working Group reveals that bottled water is often contaminated with chemicals including disinfectants, fertiliser residue and pain medication. Furthermore, a study by the Institute of Global Health says that the impact on natural resources is up to 3,500 times higher than filtered tap water. 

One way to get people to recycle more is to use Incentivized Reverse Vending Machine. Norway uses these and has a 97%+ recycling rate for plastic bottles (the world average is 9%). You simply bring your bottles back to the machines, which could be placed at local stores such as Villa Market and you get paid in baht. 

We could reduce plastic bag waste by creating educational campaigns to get people to reuse them when they go shopping. We could also replace them entirely by getting vendors to use bioplastic bags made from cassava that are plastic-free and home compostable.

Better Waste Management

Phuket currently can deal with about 700 tonnes of trash per day, but it produces about 850 tonnes per day. In a normal year during high season that can shoot up to 1,000 tonnes. In 2002 San Francisco made composting and recycling mandatory, by 2008 it had reduced its waste by 75% and it now recovers about 80% of its waste, which is diverted from the landfill or incinerator.

While Phuket may lack the financial resources of San Francisco, there are still things we can do to help reduce our waste streams. For example, most neighbourhoods have local collectors that come and take metal cans, plastic and glass to recycling centres around the island for money. You can help them out, by separating your waste and leaving it by the bins for them. Not only will this reduce waste, but it will also make it easier for them to make a living. We can also compost our organic waste, which can reduce our trash by 50 to 60%.

Skills and Jobs

The Thai government recently announced a 10-year visa to attract highly skilled professionals such as engineers and IT experts in anticipation of a shortage of tech workers over the next decade. While everyone can’t afford to go to college, there are other ways to transfer skills and knowledge. Maker Spaces, like MIT’s FabLab, are places to acquire skills, network with other entrepreneurs, build things and start businesses. They come equipped with 3D printers, computers, robotics labs, laser cutters, CNC machines and even agricultural plots.

If Phuket is going to get away from the mass tourism business model, Phuketians, both Thai and foreign, will need to acquire new skills outside of the hospitality industry. Electronics, 3D modelling and design, agritecture, data compilation and analysis, robotics, content creation, programming, critical thinking and problem-solving are all skills that will be needed in the coming decades. The small, and once war-torn country of Rwanda is taking this approach, and reinventing its capital city of Kigali into an African tech hub. If they can do it, why can’t we? 

The future is coming whether we like it or not, and we have to decide if it is going to be business as usual, or if we want to turn Phuket into a sustainable place to live. To this end, OnePhuket and the Sustainable MaiKhao Foundation are working for change and will post upcoming projects.

This article is Part 2 of a two-part special report. To read Part 1 posted last week, click here. Palmer Owyoung is an environmental activist working with the Kamala Green Club and the Global Sustainability Hub.

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Sir Burr | 13 March 2022 - 08:32:58

Dream on......


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