Coronavirus triggers an avalanche of plastic, mask waste in Thailand

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela

Bangkok, Jun 4 (efe-epa).- As the world grapples with Covid-19, Thailand faces an avalanche of plastic and mask waste that is an example of the impact the pandemic has had on the environment.

During April and May, when there were more coronavirus-related restrictions in the country, there were hardly any vehicles on the streets of Bangkok and other Thai cities, except for motorbikes belonging to home delivery companies such as GrabFood, Line Man and Foodpanda.

These companies have flourished during the pandemic and will continue doing well with many having got accustomed to ordering food at home.

But the cost of that has been an up to 60 percent increase in plastic waste in April alone.

Besides, 1.5 to 2 million masks are used daily throughout the country and many people do not dispose of them in special red bins designed for hazardous waste but mix them up with other types of garbage.

Thai garbage collector Buntham Charangsilp said although it was not mandatory, households should make an effort and segregate their trash to make their work easier and avoid putting them at risk of contamination with used masks.

“I’ve noticed that plastic waste is higher than before,” mused Buntham, dressed in a raincoat, visor, gloves, and mask before leaving with the truck to collect garbage from the streets of Bangkok.

The 57-year-old Thai admitted that garbage collectors are afraid of getting infected because it is common to find masks among the trash.

In the absence of an efficient garbage segregation system, Buntham believes that the Thai people should dispose of their waste in transparent bags so that the kind of waste they contain is visible.

According to official data, Thailand generates about two million tonnes of plastic waste annually, of which only 0.5 tonnes or 25 percent is recycled.

Thai authorities began the year with anti-plastic campaigns, which included a ban on single-use plastic bags at stores.

However, with the epidemic, the amount of plastic waste increased to about 3,440 tonnes per day in April, up from the daily average of 2,120 tonnes in 2019.

Chirat Cheewachuen, the owner of a recycling company in Bangkok, said he had received less plastic during the epidemic although he acknowledged that plastic is a problem in Thailand because a large part of it could not be recycled and ends up in landfills, on the streets or even in the sea.

His company, Lunlaa, recycles about 200,000 kg of paper and about 30 tonnes of plastic every month, as well as other materials such as glass and metals.

The entrepreneur explained that colored plastics, such as bottles of some soft drinks and food packaging, are more difficult or sometimes even impossible to recycle while transparent plastics are the most environmentally friendly.

“The government should impose higher taxes on companies that produce colored plastics” since they are more difficult to recycle, said Chirat, who believes food companies should consult with recycling companies to choose the least polluting plastic for packaging.

In his opinion, Thailand should make the segregation of household trash mandatory as it is in Japan and other countries.

The Thailand Environment Institute (TEI), a non-governmental environmental organization, says that abandoning the use of plastic cutlery and straws and adopting biodegradable packaging would help reduce waste.

TEI warns that, in addition to plastic, the epidemic has led to an increase in masks and other health items, which generates 50 tonnes of waste daily, when the incineration capacity to dispose of such waste in the country is 43 tonnes per day.

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