Covid19 Saving Nature But Single-Use Plastics Surge
Nature and the environment are getting a much needed break from all the human activities. Sights of dolphins, sea turtles laying eggs and clear blue skies are positive consequences of the lockdown here on the island of Phuket.
When they shut “off” the island, closing the bridge linking the island to the continent and closing the airport, the island became a “real” island again, safe from “intruders” and especially safe from tourists since none were allowed in. It seems idyllic but not for the Thai people who lost their jobs (hotels, restaurants, massage parlours, bars, boxing stadiums, etc…were closed by then) and ended up having no revenue to make ends meet. Some of them couldn’t even buy food.
Food distribution started early during the lockdown when the Thai people realised they needed to feed their neighbours and local community to survive then the “farangs” (expats living here all year long) stepped in and contributed with massive distribution of food essentials and meals.
The charity organisation Rawai Love Heart Group funded by local expats and friends overseas managed to make numerous distributions on Rawai beach with more than 800 bags distributed twice a week…800 plastic bags unfortunately but there are no alternatives. To put 5 items of food essentials such a kilo of rice, a bottle of cooking oil, a can of mackerel and two packs of mama noodles to which a cooked meal in a food container was added at the last minute there were no alternative, so be it but then again…we might be back to square one in terms of single-use plastics overuse!
The good thing is that all the supermarkets don’t give single-use plastic bags anymore and that’s the positive note.
The bad thing is with the closing of all restaurants, only take-aways were allowed and guess what…this involves a food container (most of them biodegradable which is a major improvement from the polystyrene one they usually handed out before) and a plastic bag…unless people are using their own reusable bag…which most of them forget…
Moreover, gloves, personal protective equipment and face masks all have plastic components. To prevent cross-contamination and spread of the virus, all of us are using single-use items more and more out of necessity and this will no doubt put a major “brake” to all the efforts to cut down single-use plastics across Phuket, Thailand and the world in general.
The country’s top plastic producer, TPBI, stated that the sales volume of plastic bags and e-commerce packaging has increased 40-50% since March 2020, with a 10% increase in the food-packing category. On the other hand, the Biodegradable Packaging for Environment has seen its sales of food packaging growing 30%.*
Reducing and finding replacements for plastics is still among the objectives to reduce plastic pollution all countries have but now, since it’s necessary to use them, we have to discuss how we can create a circular economy so that these plastics come back to something useful. This is now the most pressing issue in dealing with them.
Here is Phuket, PET plastic bottles are being collected every day by individuals mainly driving in their neighbourhoods on a motorbike on the side of which they adapted a very large cloth bag for collection. Because they are getting money out of these discarded bottles, it’s worth the effort and that’s a very positive sign for circular economy. If the recycling plants give a value to waste they will get more collectors out there and it’s an excellent start.
By promoting the fact waste can be of value, we are on the right track. Showing the people that a circular economy is beneficial to us all is what we should all strive for.