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A beach boy at Laem Singh and his pet bug. Nature on Phuketis under pressure.

Pollution on Phuket: Making a Start

Monday, December 10, 2007
AS EXPERTS and politicians from more than 180 countries conclude the Bali congress to discuss progress in dealing with climate change, public debate is barely audible on Phuket.

It's the same in Thailand generally. While much of the developed world seems to be working out ways of conserving energy, one Thai political party was even contemplating giving away free electricity as a gimmick for winning votes in the December 23 national elections.

Yet people in Europe, North America and Australia are now making lifestyle change a priority and abandoning products that consume excessive energy, with good reason, if science is right about the speed of environmental damage.

The latest alarming aspect is a report that the globe's tropical zone is expanding much faster than anticipated, bringing drier conditions that will affect agriculture and water supplies for millions around the globe.

With the prospect of the energy greed of today's generation causing havoc for their children's children, the once-materialistic and wasteful Western countries are now reassessing their needs.

This flows right down to individuals, and simple, everyday considerations, such as packaging.

All 33 London municipalities, for example, are examining whether they should take the dramatic step of banning the supermarket plastic bag entirely.

In many cities of the world, concerned consumers are already bringing their own shopping bags to reduce waste.

As the movement spreads, supermarket companies are offering reusable bags of cotton and canvas as an alternative.

This won't change the world on its own, although it will serve as a constant reminder to people of the urgency for action by everybody.

With the whole world now talking about the coming global crisis, what's happening on Phuket?

The answer is, a start is being made. When it comes to plastic supermarket bags, Big C and Tesco Lotus had nothing to say. They did not respond to calls.

But at Tops, Robinson, the first small efforts are being made to change habits ingrained in the materialistic, care-not consumer process.

Manager Khun Suchai told Phuketwan that this medium-sized supermarket alone consumes 20 kilos of plastic bags a day, a few kilos short of the 13 billion bags used in Britain each year, but still the equivalent weight of three small Thai women each week.

The Tops policy is to reduce the use of plastic bags. Their staff have been told to try to put more into the bags, too.

This is a little like the Phuket resorts that now only change the sheets every second day ''to help save the environment.'' The fact that it also saves money probably helps, too.

Elsewhere, Makro charges a small fee for plastic bags.

Khun Suchai went on to say that Tops is thinking about a promotion that will deliver some kind of benefit to those customers who are bold enough to bring their own bags.

While we've spotted bags carrying the line ''I am not a plastic bag,'' the local Green Machine has yet to reach the point where we actually see shoppers in supermarkets using them.

According to 'New York' magazine, ''With each sale of Hable Construction's untreated-cotton canvas shopping bags, designed exclusively for Barneys New York, $10 of the $75 price tag goes to the City of New York to plant trees in public parks.

''The bag's oversize shape and over-the-shoulder straps make it handy for lugging home the ingredients for a seasonal feast and for hauling your gear to the gym to work it off.''

Even in Malaysia, regular television advertisements advice the good citizens to adopt the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

But what signs are there of real environmental progress on world's leading tropical holiday island?

On World Environment Day, December 4, we talked to an expert. On-art Chanacharnmongkol is chief of Phuket Provincial Office of Natural Resources and Environment.

He agrees that separating the island's garbage is a key to reducing the amount of unnecessary waste on the island.

Recycling, though, is in its formative stages. Visitors are often surprised not to see more of it.

Beyond the tourist centres, little is being done yet.

At present, the telling statistic is that the island produces 500 tonnes of garbage a day but can only dispose of 250 tonnes with the single garbage incinerator in Phuket City.

From December 5, Patong has become the first place on Phuket where a garbage compactor is being used for recyclable garbage. The compacted blocks will be trucked to Bangkok for sale.

Success of the project in Patong will lead to other centres being established on the island.

When it comes to recycling, unwanted food from restaurants and supermarkets will in future be converted into pig feed.

The garbage incinerator, once desirably high-tech and the first of its kind in Thailand, actually pollutes the air by burning waste and needs to be replaced with less damaging methods, Khun On-art says.

He does not agree that another incinerator is the solution to the problem.

Environmental concerns on Phuket are not often expressed, Khun On-art says. But if more people voiced their support for change, it would happen, he adds.

Where to next for Phuket? The color of Phuketwan is green and we support moves aimed at ending over-consumption. Look for more articles here soon.

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