On January 1, 2020, the Thai government and the country’s largest merchants officially ended their free distribution of plastic shopping bags. Iconic Thai capital BANGKOK – Even if plastic bag companies have slashed costs to entice shops, a plastic bag ban that went into effect last week to push buyers to go green threatens to shipwreck makers of the ecologically unfriendly throwaway.
Following attention surrounding the deaths of marine life that had swallowed plastic bags and a subsequent vigorous campaign against the items, the Thai government and large shops throughout Thailand agreed on January 1 to cease giving free single-use shopping plastic bags. An illness claimed the life of “Mariam,” an orphaned baby dugong who had captured the hearts of Thais in August of last year. Plastic debris was discovered within its digestive tract. Greenpeace estimates that Thailand generates about 2.2 million tonnes of plastic garbage each year, making it the sixth largest contributor to ocean waste worldwide.
A marine biology professor at Kasetsart University, Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat, stated, “The ban is the only way we can solve the problem.” Dr. Thon, who collaborated with the Thai government to create the plan to prohibit and restrict plastic items, said, “Plastic straws and single-use plastic cups are next to go.” While environmentalists applaud the move, the 1,000 plastic bag manufacturers in Thailand feel the effects of the ban, and some plan to shut down within months if the government does not step in to help.
Mr. Naphat Thipthanakit, vice president of the Thai Plastic Industries Association and owner of a plastic bag plant with 160 employees located outside Bangkok, stated, “The repercussions are pretty serious.” Mr. Naphat’s clientele consists mostly of large retail chains, including shopping centers, cafes, and restaurants that are all part of the “Every day Say No to Plastic Bags” coalition.
They stopped placing orders with his plant for plastic bags in October last year, costing him a monthly income of 14 million baht (£624,000). He said that the bags his plant produces are up to 50 microns thick, making them suitable for reuse many times over, but that the issue rests with the government’s chaotic signals and goals. “It’s the tiny 12-micron single-use plastic bags that cause difficulties for the environment, not the bulkier bags like ours,” he noted.
Mr. Naphat claims that investing in new gear to expand the factory’s plastics manufacturing capabilities would be too costly. “My best bet is to call it quits and retire. It will take too long for me to get a return on my new investments, “the 60-year-old with 40 years of experience in the industry remarked. In a further blow to the plastic bag industry, on January 2, eight television stations agreed with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to obscure any coverage of single-use plastic bags on air.
Mr. Apiphop Phungchaikul, deputy secretary-general of the Federation of Thai Industries, has called the censorship “extremely unjust,” arguing that the current approach is not the appropriate response and that the key is to manage plastic garbage effectively. Mr. Apiphop claims that the ban’s domino effect has led to a 30 percent decline in business. Producers have resulted in price reductions to attract business from stores that have not yet implemented the prohibition.
Thai Hong Plastic manager Mr. Tanatchai Lertboonyaphan noted that the wholesale price has dropped to 48 baht per kilogram from roughly 53-54 baht at the beginning of the year. Most of his firm’s bag clients are independent supermarkets yet to join the program. He boldly proclaimed: “In a few years, I anticipate that 50% of all the plastic bag manufacturing will shut down.”