Smog-related illnesses from Bangkok’s air pollution has increased the number of patients with respiratory diseases by at least 2.4 million people in Bangkok.
Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city with a population of over ten million people is vibrant, fast-paced and has a very rich culture. Bangkok holds about 20% of the national population and over half of the country’s factories.
The city is often considered as the tourism hotspot in Southeast Asia by travellers accommodating them with a blend of old and new as can be seen by the towering skyscrapers and the numerous temples dotting all over the city.
The gleaming temples, delicious street foods, and the bustling cosmopolitan vibes of the city sure live up to its name as a top destination for global travelers by welcoming around 22.7 million tourists.
Despite all that greatness, Bangkok does have problems that need to be tackled.
The people living in Bangkok are no stranger to bad air quality as the city and the rest of the Central Region contribute between 60% and 70% of the country’s industrial emissions.
For many years Bangkok has been cloaked by the smog caused by PM2.5 which is the Particulate Matter with a size smaller than the diameter of a hair, making it easy to penetrate lungs and cause respiratory hazards.
The air pollution in Bangkok arises from a mix of factors. Traffic, construction, and factory emissions are the main reasons.
Smog cloaking Bangkok (Reuters / Jorge Silva)
- Schools are often closed due to air pollution passing above the permitted limit. For instance, in January 2020, 437 schools in Bangkok were closed as air pollution hit a dangerous level of 55 to 89 µg/m3, exceeding the government-set “safe” threshold of 50µg/m3.
- Thailand’s Kasikorn Bank Research Centre reported that air pollution could cost up to 6.6 billion baht in losses for the healthcare and tourism sectors.
- On smog-related illnesses, the high PM2.5 levels had already increased the number of patients with respiratory diseases by at least 2.4 million in Bangkok.
The government has tried to tame the situation by spraying water into the air. The method does minimize the concentration of PM2.5 by 10 micrograms per cubic meter on average, but such methods are only temporary relief.
WASTE MANAGEMENT & PLASTIC PROBLEMS
Plastic waste has also always been a problem in Bangkok:
- An average Thai uses approximately 8 plastic bags a day which adds up to 500 million plastic bags per day for the whole nation.
- Plastic waste in Thailand continues to increase at an annual rate of 12% or around 2 million tonnes which are equivalent to approximately 400,000 elephants!
- Only 0.5 million tonnes of this waste can be reused, while the remaining 1.5 million tonnes – 80% of which are single-use plastic bags – accumulate in official dumping sites or elsewhere.
- Adding to the overuse of plastic bags, Bangkok has a waste management problem. Open-air landfills, absence of street trash bins, and an impractical waste recycling system shows how severe the problem is.
- In 2016, Thai households recycled only 21.47% or 5.81 million tons of the country’s total amount of solid waste (27.06 million tons). Even when there is potential for the recycling rate to reach more than 50%.
The culprit of this abundance of plastic waste is production and consumption.
Individually plastic packed banana from Seven-eleven (Gigazine)
Numerous grocery stores in Bangkok pack their goods with an unnecessary layer of plastics. Adding to that, the plethora of street food vendors which Thailand is famous for often double bag the parcel.
Thailand is lagging in terms of tackling the food-waste crisis:
- 64% of Thailand’s municipal waste (about 27,000 kg) is made up of food waste.
- An average Bangkok grocery store can throw away up to 200 kg of edible food a day.
- An average 5-star hotel buffet throws away up to 50 kg of edible food during each service period.
- Each Thai person throws away an average of more than a kilo of rubbish every single day, and more than 60% of it is food.
- Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is able to recycle only 2% of the food waste collected. The rest goes to landfills, where hygiene is not a priority.
Food waste (Michelin Guide)
This doesn’t bode well for Bangkok as when thrown into landfill, food waste produces a large amount of methane. As food rots and degrades, it emits these harmful gases which are 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere.
INITIATIVE BY AUTHORITY
- At the beginning of 2020, Thailand Administration put a ban on single-use plastic bags at major stores.
- The administration has taken decisive action to enforce pollution regulations deploying efforts such as strict enforcement of emission controls.
- In 2019, The Thai Chamber of Commerce has marshalled its network of all 120,000 organisation members across Thailand to help solve the problem of plastic and food waste
INITIATIVE BY COMMUNITY
There are numerous initiative done by community, some of them are:
- Precious Plastic Bangkok is a community-based recycling initiative that launched a plastic drop-off network across Bangkok in an attempt to help clean up the city and change Thai attitudes towards plastic pollution.
Bottle caps drop off point (Precious Plastic Bangkok/Facebook)
- Scholars of Sustenance (SOS Thailand) is a Bangkok-based foundation that collects excess food from hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and private donors, categorizes and keeps them in the fridge before delivering them to those in need in different parts of Bangkok. SOS also runs animal feeding and compost programs.
Scholars of Sustenance Thailand (Khaosod English)
WHAT IS CIRCULAR ECONOMY?
A circular economy is a regenerative system in which resource inputs and waste, emissions, and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing and narrowing energy and material loops. This can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and upcycling.
Implementing a Circular Economy model while planning will help Bangkok to create long-lasting sustainable solutions to solve its problems.
Circular economy (Recycling Council of Ontario)
Circular economy solutions to combat Bangkok air pollution:
- Promote transport sharing models in a smaller locality that can be scaled to the whole city in the form of car sharing.
- Invest in better public transport.
- Improve the sustainability factors of public transport such as replacing old diesel engines to minimize emissions.
- Reduce the number of cars on the road by making more bicycle lanes.
- Promote car-free day in areas with good public transportation (areas with Skytrain and MRT) to create a habit of not driving to work.
Circular economy solutions to combat Bangkok plastic waste and waste management:
- A reliable system for garbage collection and disposal can help the industry move to a circular economy which promotes the total reuse and recycling of materials.
- Ramping up the number of community waste banks which employs people to process the waste received into valuable matters.
- Promote waste segregation at the lowest level e.g households.
- Upgrading recycling, upcycling activities citywide.
Circular economy solutions to combat Bangkok Food waste crisis:
- Form sound policy on food waste management and database on the amount of food waste, the technology available, or how cutting food surplus helps operators cut investment costs.
- Promote composting bin in households
- Community food waste bank where food collected can be turned into compost
- Investing in anaerobic digestion all across the city as a waste-to-energy scheme
EARTH5R CIRCULAR ECONOMY INITIATIVE
Earth5R has done many circular economy based initiatives all across India and always made sure their programs benefit the environment, society, and economy. One of the examples of the Earth5R initiative is organic waste management which was implemented in many locations such as Mumbai, Malta, Paris, and Ibiza.
- Earth5R has been making composting units to process organic waste made from upcycled industrial chemical drums and installed them in hundreds of buildings in Mumbai.
- The excess of compost from the units was given to the nearby slum and Earth5R volunteers trained the community to grow saplings on their roof.
- Grown saplings will then be bought for Earth5R’s plantation program in a nearby area.
A girl from the community in Mumbai holding planted saplings (Earth5R)
A circular economy is one that benefits the environment, social, and economic factors. This model is a perfect example as:
- Environmental Impact
- Intercepts organic waste from going to landfill
- Growing saplings on the roof will provide more space to grow and create green cover that helps cool down the house
- Reduce carbon footprints by avoiding buying trees for plantation from long-distance sources
- Increase green cover and biodiversity
- Social Impact
- Community empowerment and sustainable livelihoods
- Economic impact
- Cheaper cost than if organic waste were thrown to landfill and create more problems
- Source of income for community
Earth5R volunteer training community in Mumbai on horticulture (Earth5R)
This particular Earth5R Sustainable Tree Plantation under ACT Powai proved that circular economy based solutions are sustainable, adaptable and can help solve waste management issues and pollution problems that Bangkok is also facing.
Reach out to Earth5R to know more about solving environmental issues by creating circular economy based sustainability projects.
Earth5R is an environmental organization from India with its head office at Mumbai. It works with the NGO sector, Companies and helps them conduct environmental corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs across India. Earth5R specializes in circular economy based projects. Earth5R also offers short term and long term environmental courses.
Earth5R’s Global Sustainability Hub is a cross-sector and cross-country collaboration in pursuit of UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is an excellent opportunity for governments and the private sector to engage with communities, use Sustainability-based models to drive economic changes, and create social and environmental impact.
–Reported by Shafa Azzahra, edited by Riya Dani