The island’s high level of waste and profligate use of one single-use plastics – plastic bags 15%, straws 5%, cigarette butts 5% – impacts marine life, killing sea turtles, dolphins and dugongs.
Experts on waste management and environmental protection are warning that Thailand could become the garbage bin of the world.
At the Asean Forum last week, Thailand committed to reduce marine debris by 50%. Thailand’s National Action Plan encourages citizens, including children, and the private sector to reduce waste at source by following the 3Rs concept: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This is where schools, business groups and NGOs have a very significant role to play and indeed many different groups are already actively contributing to the reduction of waste in Phuket.
The Asia Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), originally established in Australia and now established in Thailand, aims to contribute to building sustainable communities, including water, waste, energy and biodiversity, with a strong commitment to social justice. APEN’s current project is bringing community groups and agencies together to transform the poorest area of Phuket: Koh Siray.
Connected to Phuket Town by a small bridge is the often forgotten Koh Siray. The island is home to around 10,000 people, including a village of 1,000 sea gypsies, Myanmar fishing workers and families of the poor and those in prison.
High levels of toxins in the water and the monumental amount of plastic waste that floats beneath the residents’ homes (see main photo) is directly impacting the health of the community, especially that of the children.
On April 29, between 9am and 12pm, some 40 sailors from the HMAS Canberra, the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy f leet, will be deployed to Koh Siray to participate in a clean-up of the village and help establish the kindergarten as a sustainable centre with fresh drinking water and a garden.
This is part of a wider project sponsored by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which aims to transform Koh Siray into a self-sustained ecosystem, reduce waste to zero, break the poverty cycle by empowering local waste management and increasing commercial gain by creating products to sell in local markets.
Just last week, 30 representatives of the Koh Siray School, Koh Siray Kindergarten, Sunshine Village Foundation and the Family and Child Centre undertook training to learn how to operate five aerobic decomposition bins (compost) at each of their centres.
The training was led by Khun Thiti, interestingly the former manager of the Saphan Hin incinerator, and was visited by the Australian Consul-General, Craig Ferguson, and the Deputy Mayor of Rassada, Pawat Supasuwan.
The four centres will be the hubs which generate action through waste assessments, sorting of waste, training in waste utilisation, composting, building sustainable gardens and the development of young leaders to maintain these changes in the community.
The Happy Green World Foundation develops educational programmes about waste, water and energy for children between 6 and 12 years old. The easy-to-follow programmes, which teach sustainable behaviour through a colourfully-illustrated activity guide, student book and game, see children composting, reusing plastic and tidying up playgrounds, amongst a host of other regionally-specific activities. In this way, children learn that they can directly influence the environment around them.
The programme is currently being developed into Thai by students at British International School, Phuket – BISP with the support of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and will engage 2,000 students across Phuket.
Phuket’s energised Trash Hero group are well known for their regular beach cleans across the island. However, they are committed to education and long-term sustainability projects too.
With a keen understanding of how waste is created, and hands-on experience of the impact that it has on the local and global environment, they create long-term programmes to help communities to remove and better manage their waste and reduce the amount of it being produced in the future. They also engage children through a multilingual kids’ programme.
The newly-founded Small Steps Phuket group share tips, ideas and resources to reduce waste and pollution and minimise climate change. Their ‘small steps’ philosophy demonstrates that minor changes can have real impact and we all have our part to play.
Plastic Free Phuket sees students, parents and teachers from UWC Thailand International School working together to reduce plastic use in Phuket with the aim of protecting precious marine life.
Surfers, divers and entrepreneurs, under the moniker Precious Plastic Phuket, have a different approach. Viewing the single-use plastic already here as a free raw material, they repurpose it into a whole host of beautiful, practical objects. Think plant pots, phone cases, tiles and tote bags.
Tackling waste is never a waste of time and the time truly is now.
Dr Peter W Harris is the Chair of APEN. They welcome anyone to join the Australian Navy at the Koh Siray half-day clean-up and Aussie barbecue on April 29. For more information, contact Songkran Kongmuang (Jimmie) on firstname.lastname@example.org or 093-1687423.
Keep an eye on the coming issues of The Phuket News as it follows APEN and the Koh Siray journey.