Monday, June 24, 2013

Mai Sai Tung - no plastic bag, please

We Germans, as one stereotype says, are crazy about recycling. These are not my words since I never thought it might be that serious, but at least we do recycle glass, plastic, metal and organic waste in Germany. But really obsessed are actually people in South-East-Asia. It is just for another reason, and it is in a different way.

If you have ever watched the garbage collectors picking up your waste, you know what I mean. They open the carefully corded plastic bags with a snap and sort what ever is useful. Cardboxes on the top of the truck, plastic bottles and cans in big bags in the back of the truck, glas in a plastic box and so on. You may see also usually old men and women walking in your Soi and asking for plastic bottles. It is big business. Someone who runs a company that produces plastic mats in Laos told be, a good plastic collector can make 300 USD per month.

So some parts of your waste are actually not waste, but valuables. But there is one item that apparently has no value at all, although it makes a big part of the garbage: the plastic bag.

Where ever you buy something, if it is a bottle of water, a fresh coconut, even a pack of plastic bags: you will get it packed in a plastic bag. It is nearly impossible to avoid, one may say. Why are people so obsesses with these plastic bags?

One theory is that because it is free, people want to have it. Part of this is a training that went wrong at Tesco and Big C: The cashier was told that they shouldn't pack until the bag is full. Instead, they pack fresh food in one bag, juices in another, washing detergent and toilet paper in a different bag. It looks like every classifier in the Thai language has it's own bag category.

Because it is free and there is unlimited supply of this free good, nobody spends a thought about reusing it.

But I do. And I use cotton bags or the thick reusable plastic bags Tesco sells (mainly to Farang, I guess). And somehow I am surprised about the reaction of the staff at the cashier desk. Like today, when the girl understood my "Mai say tung" and saw the Tesco bag. "Oh, very good" she said in English. That happend before even at a 7/11 shop.

So it seems, at least young people learn in school (or somewhere else) that reuse is a good thing. But somehow there is a gap between knowledge and impact for their life.

It took decades for the West (and is far from finished) to limit the use of plastic bags, so I think even if it takes ten more years in Asia, it would be quite fast for a change of habits.

Let's just hope, and Happy Recycle.