Marine Debris is an eyesore and something that everyone can do something about. Our introduction to the problem that is marine debris most commonly begins on the beaches surrounding islands and continents. This is where we see plastic bags, cigarette butts, pieces of rope and wood and bottles and caps and containers and the list goes on and on.
It may be on the city streets, as a plastic bag makes its epic journey to those beaches or even further a field to places like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
But the stuff we encounter on the beach or down the street is just a fraction of the debris that floats around in waterways and our oceans for an eternity. Most of it is out of sight & therefore out of mind
One day I went to a store in Australia equipped with my own bag to carry any purchases I made. The lady at the checkout inquired if I needed to ‘buy’ a plastic bag. I informed her I didn’t need one but what did she mean by ‘buy’ a plastic bag? She informed me that to discourage plastic bag use they were charging 30 cents per bag. I expressed my enthusiasm for such a policy. She seemed surprised by my reaction and I was amazed when she informed me that I was one of few customers supportive of the idea. Such programs like charging for plastic bags have been successfully implemented in many places around the globe. In Ireland for example plastic bags are chargeable by law and as a result consumption has reduced by 90%!
FYI approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used every year on our planet. Only about 2% of those get recycled and the rest end up in landfill.
We all have choices everyday in the things we buy, the places we travel and the means by which we get there. Often people provide excuses for why they ‘needed’ a particular plastic bag (like they plan to reuse that particular plastic bag for garbage bags at home) or how it was ‘unavoidable’ or that they normally don’t do it. I understand that if you buy a packet of potato chips it is impossible to get the chips without the bag, so some waste is inevitable, but you don’t need another bag to carry the bag you just bought!
Recycling is not a Sustainable Solution
Additionally a common rebuttal to the use of plastic bottles and bags is that they get recycled. Recycling is great and to be applauded but most products don’t get recycled anyway, and when they do the amount of energy used is far greater than never having used the product in the first place. The old adage of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, is listed in that order for a reason! Reducing consumption is far better than reusing or recycling a product.
I must admit to being very passionate about the issue of waste seeing as though this is one of those things that everyone can have a real impact on but it seems that apathy is often much more persuasive than action. This means that until a governing body creates a law against something, most people won’t & don’t change the way they operate.
Eliminating the use of disposable plastic bags is about more than just the environment, it is about health, sustainability, economics and ultimately, the quality of our life.
Getting to a more local orientation here on Koh Tao, where I live we have taken to trying to make people feel guilty about the waste they produce with posters that highlight the impact these seemingly insignificant everyday activities have on our small island and the world as a whole.
Local government action on a widespread scale is unlikely so we have taken to working with local businesses. We are hoping to start a sort of Green Package Program for Koh Tao where a ‘user-pays’ system is implemented through local restaurants. At a restaurant you can either eat-in or take-out. Eating in is a much better Eco option because no packaging is needed. But even here you can forgo things like straws with your drinks. Even shop owners can provide drinks in reusable bottles rather than disposable varieties and even water bottle refills rather than selling new bottles every time.
Many people get take-out meals and this is a packaging nightmare. Choosing things like sandwiches rather than salads uses an easily recyclable paper bag rather than an easily disposable, non-recyclable plastic of Styrofoam box.
Changes we are proposing are that customers will need to pay for things like plastic bags (5 Thai baht/10 cents) and foam boxes (10 Thai Baht/20 cents). With these payments the only bags and boxes provided will be oxy-biodegradable versions which are more expensive to purchase, but the theory here is that the increased costs can be passed onto the consumer. We believe that if the consumer is adequately informed of the changes, additional costs and the reasons for them, then they will accept those increased costs for the welfare of the planet. People care and are often happy to pay small amounts to be ‘eco’ but will rarely go out of their way for it.
So as a pilot program we hope it will catch on and in time will spread across our little island. It may be just a drop in the ocean, but a dripping tap will eventually fill a glass, and then overflow. Every little bit helps.
For more info see: www.ecokohtao.com/articles/Eco-Zest-Proposal.pdf
Green Package Program Suggestions for Restaurants
- Provide re-usable boxes & reusable coffee cups for take out orders and organise pick up locations for plastic at major delivery locations or have a deposit system
- Plastic Bags to be charged. 5 baht each. If requested only provide oxy-biodegradable type.
- Take out boxes made out of paper rather than foam. Charge 10 baht each to cover the additional cost.
- Straws only supplied on request
- Discounts for people who bring their own cups/take out packaging