05 April 2010

Garbage a Problem in Thailand?

Consumerism, a highly stigmatized word that oftentimes holds a negative connotation because it is associated with capitalism, has many facets to it. Before studying Unit 2 I had an incomplete view of consumerism I usually thought of the effects of my consumption patterns on the environment at its beginning stages, for example, the raw materials that it needed or how much oil it took for my product to get where I purchased it. I completely disregarded and ignored the final stage of consumerism. At home, I dreaded Monday’s and Thursday’s because those where the days that I had to take the trash out of my house and into the side walk. I was too preoccupied with saving the forest, protecting the cows from inhumane treatment, I needed to protect small farmers from big corporations, the concept of trash and the impact that it had on the environment, was not an issue I thought about, living in New York City trash simply vanished.

Thailand is using neo-liberal ideology as a means to economic development. Neo-liberal ideology encourages free market capitalism, under this system economic growth is determined by how much a country spends, the more people consume the better a country is. This ideology of development came about after WWII in the 1950’s and as a result has lead to massive environmental degradation and an increasing amount of waste creation worldwide. As Thailand continues to develop and to adopt western ideology, consumerism will continue to rise and consequently so will trash. Thus far, “Thailand’s changing consumption lifestyle led to an increase in the annual production of garbage. The volume of garbage produced annually rose from 14.6 million tons in 2004 to 15 million tons in 2008. Plastics and Styrofoam made up one out of five parts of the total garbage volume.”
The Thai government has worked with the international community in an effort to manage the increasing amount of waste that is produced from its rapidly developing economy. Thailand has the second largest economy in South East Asia focused on export led development. Since 2000 it has had a 3-4% economic growth rate. Such a rapidly increasing economy has hindered Thailand from developing appropriate methods of disposing of waste produced by a society that is verging more to consumerist practices. As a result, Thailand currently does not have a comprehensive recycling system in place; the trash produced in Thailand is either sent to a landfill or is sent to an incinerator. Private clinics are not required to separate their trash; they can dispose of medical waste in the same way that they would dispose of regular trash. This is a problem because water dispelled from the landfill can either go to neighboring farms or flow into neighboring rivers, for example, Khambon Noi, a landfill in Khon Kaen, run-offs from the landfill go into the Pong river; this river is a source of water to many residents in the area.

After the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Summit Thailand received the help of Denmark to implement a comprehensive recycling program the program, however, fell through after Denmark left. As Thailand moves forward, consumerism is inevitable, consequently so is trash, therefore, an effective method of waste disposal that does not harm the livelihood and sustainability of scavengers in Thailand is essential.

Esther Sosa
Bowdoin College


Leslie O'Bray said...


I’ve been having a bit of a dilemma trying to think of a good way to address this situation. How do you have a method of waste disposal that does not harm the livelihood and sustainability of the scavengers who work in the landfill?

Objectively, we are generating too much trash, and need to reduce the amount that we consume and dispose. The mixing of so much trash it is creating hazardous environments for people who work in landfills, live adjacent to them, and for the general public in the surrounding area. Even those seemingly removed may be affected - the wastewater (i.e. the leachate) from the Kham Bon Noi landfill pollutes the water supply that sources the water Khon Kaen residents drink.

Removed from the situation, I would envision a recycling program and waste separation plan to be a good option for the Khon Kaen municipality to reduce the amount of trash that ends up in the landfill. It would seem a good, environmentally friendly option. However, thinking about the villagers we met and stayed with in the landfill, any plan like this directly takes away their livelihood and autonomy. I cannot figure out how to reconcile these two opposing ideas – any way to address this issue from the source hurts the villagers. How could the government create a safer, more environmentally friendly landfill and not destroy the livelihoods of the villagers who scavenge in the landfill?

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