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Life in Chiang Mai

 


A plastic bag levy could help reduce wastage

By Paul Surtees
It is good news (CM Mail 9th February) that Thailand’s environmental authority is taking concrete steps to address the over-use of plastic bags. Bearing in mind that plastics are especially slow to decompose in landfills, such measures are to be warmly welcomed. Educational efforts are part of that plan.
Having recently come to Chiang Mai from Hong Kong, where similar concerns have been addressed over recent years, it seems to me that Hong Kong’s successful approach can, with benefit, be copied here.
Hong Kong – a city of seven million souls – was, less than a decade ago, discarding some 8 billion plastic bags a year! Our landfills were becoming clogged with them, with each man, woman and child in the territory using more than three a day.
In 2009, a nominal levy of HK $0.50 (THB 2) was charged on plastic bags given out at supermarkets. As an immediate result, most customers started to bring along their own bags with them when going shopping. Within a very few months, the levels of distribution of plastic bags there had dropped by over 90%. These days, you rarely see anyone there asking for a plastic bag, and the scheme now encompasses all retailers.
It was earlier feared by some commentators that Hong Kong’s poorer citizens would be upset by these charges. And yes, vastly wealthy though the city of Hong Kong is, there are still – unfortunately - plenty of poorer families. But as Jesus noted, the poor will always be with us.
However, a person’s being poor does not mean that he or she is also stupid: the poorer elements of Hong Kong society were motivated to avoid these bag charges by bringing along their own. The wealthier citizens, whilst not especially put off paying for a bag after the introduction of the rather low fee involved, were nevertheless thereby influenced to avoid doing so for ‘’green” reasons – wishing to help to preserve the environment.
Thus all sectors of society contributed towards the great success that Hong Kong’s plastic bag levy scheme has achieved; and that, in a short period.
I recently noticed a tree, in the empty deserts of the Middle East: it was almost completely obscured from view by numerous plastic bags that how blown across the sands from nearby cities and got caught in its branches.
I have also seen discarded plastic bags blowing around the downtown streets of Chiang Mai, many ending up in the picturesque canals which surround the Old City.
To help to avoid any more environmental degradation here, caused by the over-use (and too-ready discarding) of plastic bags, a levy scheme could be introduced in Thailand – perhaps starting here, in the lovely city of Chiang Mai.
 


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A plastic bag levy could help reduce wastage