The flimsy, colorful plastic bags widely found in Thailand’s markets and retail shops will soon be a thing of the past, thanks to a new single-use plastics ban. For now, the change has only gone into effect in major stores, but a country-wide ban is planned for 2021, Reuters reports.
Much like Mexico, which is rolling out plastic bans of its own this year, the major tourist destination has long struggled with its use of plastics. In fresh markets and street food stalls, colorful fruits and liquids are packaged in puffed out, clear plastic bags and displayed in rows and loaded into more bags when sold. Even the best-intentioned travelers, advised to avoid drinking tap water, often have to resort to plastic water bottles for their hydration needs. According to a 2017 report by the Ocean Conservancy, over half of the plastic that enters the ocean comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
But Thailand’s new plastics ban is only one of the first steps in a 20-year action plan, which kicked off in 2018, designed to change all that. According to the Bangkok Post, by 2037 the country will no longer use cap seals, microbeads, single-use plastic bags, polystyrene food containers, plastic cups and straws, and oxo-degradable plastic.
Local awareness of the plastic problem spiked last year when an orphaned baby dugong (a manatee-like marine mammal) that had become somewhat of a celebrity in southern Thailand died after ingesting plastic. A later story about a wild deer found dead in a national park with plastic in its system also sparked outrage.
The first phase of this new ban went into effect last year, with a campaign encouraging consumers to voluntarily refuse plastic bags. According to Varawut Silpa-Archa, the Thai minister of Natural Resources and Environment, the country reduced its use of plastic bags by 6,355 tons—an estimated 2 billion bags—during that time. He also noted that, thanks to the change, Thailand has dropped in the ranking of the world’s top countries dumping plastic waste into the sea from 6th to 10th.
Forty-three department stores and convenience store companies around the country have joined in the ban that started on January 1 and will stop handing out plastic bags. One, CPALL Pcl, operates more than 10,000 7-Eleven shops in Thailand.
Traditional markets and street vendors are not yet included in this year’s phase, but presumably they will be when the country-wide ban goes into effect in 2021.
Thailand started 2020 with a major plastic bag ban so now Thais have made it a trend to put their shoppings in random things & i’m living for it LMFAO pic.twitter.com/7QtkMD1oax — siam (@sihamese) January 4, 2020
Traveling to Thailand? Try some of these local eco bag hacks
Without plastic bags, Thais have gotten creative when it comes to toting their purchases home. In fact, it’s almost become a national game—who can come up with the most ridiculous alternative. A viral Facebook Album and a separate Tweet show shoppers using T-shirts, traffic cones, baskets, wheelbarrows, laundry hampers, and more. Our favorite? A set of portable mesh shelves. As the Verge points out, these DIY solutions may actually be more eco-friendly than buying a new reusable bag: “A reusable polyester bag needs to be used 35 times and a cotton tote bag used 7,100 times before their environmental impacts (when it comes to water and energy use) fall below that of a typical flimsy plastic grocery bag.” Do we recommend bringing your laundry hamper next time you need to stop at a Thai shop? No, but you may want to get creative.