Bangkok is drowning in its own trash. We don’t sort our garbage, we generate too much of it, we use landfills instead of incinerators and, within 10 years, there will literally be nowhere for our rubbish to go. Here’s what’s broken with the system, and how it could be fixed. 
  • By Thitipol Panyalimpanun
  • | Oct 11, 2013

     
1.2 Kg
Trash generated by Bangkokians every day
22%
Amount of trash Bangkok generates relative to the whole country.
8.1 Millon
Plastic bags Bangkokians use, per day
 

B1,000

Cost of processing one ton of trash

B4,967,665,400
This year’s trash processing budget for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA)
95.56%
Percent of the BMA’s total budget expenditure this represents.

Source: Bangkok Metropolitan Administration

3.6 Million tons = Trash the city generated in 2012

4.4 Million tons = Trash the city is expected to generate in 2013

 
 
 
 
40% = Percentage of trash that we generate which can be recycled.
 
18% = Percentage of trash that actually gets recycled.
 

Source: Pollution Control Department of Thailand

Source: OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)
 

  Top Pipat, founder of Eco Shop by Top Pipat, www.ecoshop.in.th

“I think we’ve seen a dramatic increase in environmental awareness recently. There are more products made from recycled materials, more people buying it and more support from officials. As for recycling, I think many people are capable and willing to contribute. But we are not educated enough about this when we are young. If you look at countries like Japan, children learn about these things at school, see their parents set an example, so it automatically becomes habitual for everyone. We need to do better to motivate people here for real changes to happen.”

   

53% = Percentage of Bangkok’s municipal solid waste which is compostable organic garbage, like food leftovers and fruit peels.

5% = Percentage of households that practice composting.

 
 
1. Get your small plastic or iron garbage can with a lid. Make 10-15 small holes in the bottom and put it on a tray with a one-inch gap between the two to let air in.
2. Add in a few inches of dry bedding such as dead leaves, strips of newspaper, coconut coir, or sawdust at the bottom to balance the moisture levels (You might want to keep the dry bedding nearby as you will need to add it later too).
 
3. As a beginner, it’s wise to avoid tricky stuff like meat, fish and dairy waste and start with fruit and vegetables. Now put your organic trash in and leave it. 
 
4. If there’s ever bad odor or liquid leaking into the bottom tray, add more dry bedding.
5. Every couple of weeks, mix the contents up with a stick to let air pass through it and help the composting process.
6. Experiment to find the right balance between your trash and dry bedding. The end result is rich soil you can use for your plants.

36,363 
color-coded bins were purchased in 2010.
35,000
transparent bins were purchased this year for security reasons.
B70 MILLION
cost of the new
tranparent bins.

“It’s frustrating seeing your separated garbage bags all thrown mixed up with other trash in one truck. it feels like you’re doing it to no avail.”

Top Pipat

                          
Paper: Office paper (type used for printers) = B5.8/kg Newspapers, Books, Magazines = B3.5/kg Brown box paper = B4/kg Other paper (grossy flyers, brochures and magazine covers) = B1.25/kg
  
Plastic bottles: Clear plastic bottles, with PET logo at the bottom = B15/kg
Opaque plastic bottles = B17/kg General plastics = B8.25/kg Plastic bags = B1/kg
  
Glass: Soda Bottles = B10/box Colored glass = B1.25/kg  Clear glass = B1.50/kg Large soft drink bottle = B2/bottle The price of a liquor bottle highly varies depending on the brand. 
 
  
 UHT boxes: Juice and milk cartons = B1/kg
   Other: If your trash doesn’t fit into any of these basic categories, don’t give up. Stuff like rubber boots, CDs and any parts of electronic appliances are recyclable too. The priciest trash you can sell is bronze wire at B180/kg

Source: Thailand Institute of Packaging and Recycling Management for Sustainable Environment (TIPMSE).

 

Chidjai Khemglad Public Cleanliness and Orderliness officer, KLong Toey District Office.

 “Sa leng [private trash collectors who operate on motorized tricycles] in fact make life harder for us. They get to the collection spots before our officers arrive. Because they are not taking the all of the trash, they just scatter it all out from the bin, pick what they can sell and move on, leaving it all out of the bin and all over the ground. Some even stole our bins.”

Q&A

Thanom Phromma

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
What is your reaction to the BMA’s claim that sa leng (private trash collectors) are making their work more difficult?
I can understand that. There are many kinds of sa leng. There are professional ones, like me, and some who are not so professional. For me, I don’t bother going through the messy bins. I go buy or collect stuff from condos or shophouses then sell it to the recycling site. And, of course, there are junkies and migrants who will do whatever it takes to get the money. Also with these scavengers on foot, who mostly just got out of prison or are unemployed, I would say you should rather stay away from them. I sometimes think that the problems between the BMA’s collectors and scavengers are often down to the recyclable trash, which is worth money. We do this for a living, not like the BMA officials who do it for the public cleanliness and environment. But if what I do helps the environment, I am happy about that, too.
 
If households start separating more trash, would that help?
More people are now sorting their trash. Everybody knows trash is money. Housemaids do it. Many condos do it. What I do mostly is buy from them and then sell it to the trash purchasing site. But you will definitely gain more by sorting the trash yourself.
 
What’s your favorite trash?
Bronze and brass. But it’s not what you find every day. So cans, bottles and paper are the basics.
 
How much do you make selling trash?
I don’t want to say a specific number, but it’s not bad, though not enough to save. Most of the money in the trash business goes to the middleman. There are over 200 scavengers selling their collected stuff at this one recycling site [on Sukhumvit Soi 36] every day; the site needs to hand out queue tickets. They don’t have their own collectors but we sa leng can rent their tricycles for B20 a day. However, we must only sell what we gather to them. If they find us selling it to another site, we won’t get to do business with them again. 
 
 
 
 Chainiran Payomyam, president of activist group OPAR
 
“Given the amount of trash we currently generate, the BMA needs more trucks. We also need to sort waste by using different trucks to collect different types of trash on different days.”
 
B900 million
Cost of an incinerator to be built in Nong Kham to be operated by Hong Kong’s waste-to-energy company C&G who currently runs five plants in China. 
500 tons
Amount of waste the incinerator could burn, per day.
9.8 megawatts
Amount of energy that it will generate, to be sold back to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand. 
 
Chainiran Payomyam, President of activist group OPAR
 “I’m not against the building of the incinerator; it should have been done a long while ago but what I don’t understand is why the BMA doesn’t look to own it. Instead it will hire a private company to operate it, meaning we won’t get the revenue from the waste-to-energy process. And the location is too close to the city, especially with the city’s ongoing expansion. Many people may suffer from cancer-causing dioxins—that’s why it’s important the BMA should own the plant and control its safety.”
 
Top Pipat, founder of Eco Shop, which is a platform for eco-friendly and recycled design products.
 
“I think everybody knows environmentalism is a good thing. But to motivate people to actually do something about it is another story. I don’t agree with people who say it’s a problem too big for individuals to do anything. If we do nothing, our actions will definitely come back to affect everyone.”
 
Chidjai Khemglad Public Cleanliness and Orderliness officer, Klong Toey District Office.
 
“I want people to see public places the way they see their own homes so they won’t litter. We are really lacking a sense of responsibility. We need contributions from every part of society. The least we ask is that people put their trash into the bins. No matter how advanced our technology, if the public doesn’t care it about this, we can never really improve.”
 
Chainiran Payomyam, President of activist group OPAR
 
“While people in developed countries are taught to sort their trash in their household, we are taught to put everything in one bag and throw it into a bin. The BMA once said they would have a recycling system for these plastic bags, but we haven’t seen it materialize.”
 

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) did not grant us an interview for this issue. After postponing several times, they pointed us to a Public Relations fact sheet.