Thumbnail Guide to Trash on the Thai Gulf Islands
We have seen many comments on social media regarding trash disposal on the islands, some of it correct but much of it misguided, incorrect or simply derogatory (to both Thai and visitors) so we have written this brief overview in order to try to avoid some of the myths!
Thailand ranks approximately 5th in the worlds plastics pollution league possibly due to a rapidly developing economy over the last few decades, historic poor education and awareness of environmental issues and lifestyle (eg extensive use of food takeaway culture using disposable plastic bags). However Thailand is now a significantly developed country and has a a complex and major economic base (Bangkok being ranked as one of the largest and most vibrant cities in the world). It has a well structured enviromnmental government agency and also local municipal trash collection systems based along European lines and, whilst by no means perfect as yet, progress is being made.
Being vacation Islands, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui and Koh Tao are subject to high levels of self generated trash and also trash washed up on our shores. On the Gulf Islands successfull application and progress of trash disposal and recycling is varied. As a generalisation the local municipalities have responsibilty for trash collection from roadside municipal bins and also some commercial organisations. General oversight of and pollution control and monitoring (of sites above a specified size) lies with the department of environment who undertake regular site monitoring and pollution analytics (see for example our sea water quality maps HERE).
On Samui the collected trash was designated for recycling and disposal at the municipal incinerator plant on Samui. Koh Tao also operated a similar system. As many of you will be aware, the municipal incinerators on both Koh Tao and Koh Samui have not been operational for some years and trash was simply stockpiled at dumps on the islands. Central government has now taken action and agreed a process for removal of some 40,000 tons from Koh Tao for incineration in a Khoen Kaen power generation plant and removal of some 200,000 tons from Koh Samui. Whilst this should alleviate immediate problems long term solutions clearly need to be put into place.
Koh Phangan has operated with a similar system, the Baan Tai municipality (eastern part of the island) stockpiling trash at their dump in Baan Tai. The western island Phangan municipalities ship their waste to 2 privately operated incinerators near Thon Sala. The Baan Tai dump is actively scavenged for recyclable materials including metals, glass and plastics. It is recognised however that the dump is now essentially no longer operable in an acceptable manner and plans are being developed for alternative disposals by Baan Tai municipality, possibly using the existing incinerators on Phangan. Trash going to the Phangan private incinerators utilised by the Phangan municipalities are extensively recycled prior to non-recyclable waste incineration, notably metals, glass, plastics and organic waste for compost being extracted and sold and provide a revenue stream for the private incinerator company.
It is worth noting that Thailand is a relatively low taxation economy which results in somewhat limited financial resources for use by municipality and central government agencies, partly compensated by the entrepenurial nature of local thai in extracting value from waste material!
In addition to the government backed sytem there is an active voluntary component in trash removal and recycling on all of the islands including beach cleans, roadside cleans, monitoring and education. On Phangan this involves, for example, Green Cross Beach Clean, Trash Hero, Thai environmental and recycling Teams, individual inputs and of course, ourselves. Koh Samui and Koh Tao also have their respective Trash Hero branches and individuals involved in helping to maintain and clean environment. All are contactable via their Facebook pages.
In the longer term increased environmental awareness by increasing eco education of adults and schoolchildren is essential and we, and other organisations on the islands, are actively persuing these areas. Individual inputs (say no to plastic disposables and carry re-usable bags etc) can have an impact as can education of retail outlets to use biodegradable, recyclable or reusable bagging and packaging. On Koh Phangan progress has been made with market stall holders, Big C, Makro and 7 11 stores.
We are all in this together, we can all make a difference, be it municipalities and government agencies improving their systems, retailers minimising waste, and individuals taking positive action by reducing their waste footprint and helping others, either by personal involvement with the voluntary groups, or by financial support.
Just do it...