Observations on Recycling and Waste in Thailand

Many of you reading this know that I have a fascination and a limited professional background in waste management. Garbology (the study of culture through a cultures’ trash) is something that interests me a great deal. Having worked directly with collection and disposal in the United States while also possessing a BA in cultural anthropology, I of course am interested in how other communities and cultures process their trash. After all, trash is something that every culture has to deal with- it’s universal. In Thailand, I’ve had some interesting observations.

  • There is a LOT of waste. In the places I’ve been (Bangkok, Southern Thailand, Islands) anything you buy will come in multiple plastic bags, especially food. Thais in Bangkok often don’t cook that much because it costs about the same to eat out at food carts or at restaurants (that’s how cheap food is here). I’ve watched many people bring food in with them to work for breakfast or lunch and take food home to eat for dinner. This involves styrofoam, paper plates, plastic utensils, and many plastic bags, etc. There are usually at least 2 sauces per typical thai dish, so count two tiny plastic bags with the sauce per carry out. There are plastic bags here so small that it’s about as obnoxious to carry the tiny bag as it would be to carry the actual object.
  • Because the tap water here is not drinkable, plastic bottles for pure water/ other drinks are used even more than in the USA.
  • There are very few public trash cans. Even in homes, hotels, hostels, businesses, etc there are few trash cans and if there are any they are very small compared to what I’m used to in the USA.
  • Recycling is expected-everywhere. In public it is harder to find a recycling bin than it is to find a trash can, which means it’s pretty difficult. I have noticed many times that if there is a bottle or especially a can in the trash, someone is fishing it out and putting it with recycling. As a traveler, this is very reassuring because even I don’t want to carry around bottles all day waiting for a recycling bin. I’m pretty positive this also means there is a financial incentive for recycling, but my quick scan of this topic on Google didn’t turn up exactly what it was. I know municipalities are rewarded by the federal government for recycling, though the Thai recycling rate is still about 20% (pretty bad).
  • Thai’s REUSE. Soft drink companies still use the thick glass bottles that are collected and refilled at the plant. This is the best system! Closed loop! I’ve also seen reuse with trash cans made out of tires and table cloths on outside seating areas made out of old vinyl signs. There are also various interesting crafts made out of aluminum cans (tuk-tuks made out of cans), flowers made out of plastic bottles, lots of metal art made from bike parts, tote bags and laptop cases made out of rice bags- interesting things like this.
  • I haven’t seen any paper recycling other than cardboard, and I only saw that where people were bailing it.
  • On the islands, trash is burned. This means that it’s not economical to take the trash back to any kind of facility off the island. I’m not sure about recycling on the islands.

    trash can at a temple made out of a car tire, someone didn’t want to put the bottle in the trash so they left it on top to be recycled

    plastics (Krabi Town)

    plastics, seriously

    cardboard (Bangkok)

    more cardboard + plastic (Bangkok)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s