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
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
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
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
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