Research topic: Throw-away Away
By: Romklao Chai-ariras
HKU: MA Editorial Design
"What counts as trash depends on who's counting, and that what we throw away defines us as much as what we keep." 1
Apart from being one of the most important commercial centers in South East Asia and a gateway and principal destination for many visitors, Bangkok is not only home to 12 million habitants, but also is home to more than 3 millons tonnes of trash.
Let’s take a close look at the numbers
In high consumption cities in the industrialized world, large amounts of paper waste, over-packaging, food waste, and e-waste are all causing particular problems. The amount of solid waste in Thailand continued to increase. In 2008, the amount of solid wastes around the country was approximately 15.03 million tons or 41,064 tons per day (excluding the pre-dumped solid waste). Collected solid waste in the Bangkok Metropolitan area amounted 8,780 tons per day or 21% while solid waste in the municipal and the city of Pattaya amounted 14,915 tons per day or 36%. The solid waste around all of the local administration areas amounted 17,369 tons per day or 43% of the total amount of solid waste collectible all over the country. Comparing the previous year, the amount of solid waste had been increased by 0.27 million tons or 1.81%, in correlation to the expansion of urban community and population growth.
Annually, Bangkok Municipality Authority spends 650 millions Baht on waste collection; that is enough to build 50 schools. Evidently, it has become a major problem in the national scale.
Waste management systems include socio-economic, general public awareness, political, environmental, and technological aspects and have many stakeholders. All these aspects are inter-related and dynamic in nature. Therefore, waste management systems create a complex cluster of different aspects, and functions of this complex cluster are also dynamic and interdependent.
Consumers’ consumption behavior
Apart from those factors revolving around waste management systems, consumers play an important role. Today’s consumption-driven society produces an enormous amount of waste. However, living in the world of consumerism, people do not realise how they are adopting a throw-away culture where obsolescence is positively accepted and even celebrated. People dispose of artefacts or products before they actually need to in order to buy a more fashionable/stylish version. The disposed items then become waste when they are still in a perfect working condition and end up siting on landfills in several rural areas of Bangkok. Convenience and user-friendliness have long been the consumers’ expectation, whether enabling consumers to purchase and throw products away unconsciously or having an easy and free access to unlimited plastic bags at the cashier counters with no cost and guilt-free because the environmental issue is not being consciously considered. One can find this in Bangkok city centres as well as rural areas scattered all over by plastic packaging namely plastic cups, plastic containers, plastic straw and plastic bags. Ninty-five per cent of beverage road-side vendors use plastic cups to serve coffee or tea. The customers throw these cups on footpaths or near drains. Because of this throw-away culture and the absence of objections from passer-by, the advises on sensible usage and disposal of plastic bags are not heeded by the general public. Therefore people just drop rubbish anywhere without a thought. Every time someone throws something ‘Away’ it goes to a place that is usually worse than when he had it.
Environmental concerns are still very minimal or non-existing among Thai consumers, and large shopping malls and supermarkets certainly do not take bold initiatives. At all possible occasions one is inundated by unnecessary plastic bags. One interesting new development is that the Mall department stores (including Siam Paragon and Emporium Shopping Complex) have started distributing biodegradable plastic bags, predictably other department stores will follow this example.
At the up-scale shopping malls like Siam Paragon's or Emporium's gourmet market in Bangkok, extensive unnecessary services are provide to spoil their shoppers who come with ultimate budget. One example of overly unnecessary 'service' is when you fill a provided plastic container at the salad bar at their supermarkets, you are prompted with plastic utensils and paper napkins as if you are going to eat the salad there or as if you do not have the necessary forks and spoons at home.
Where are waste paper baskets/rubbish bins
The problem is there is not enough waste paper baskets/rubbish bins and people are not trained to use them properly. Apparently the existing rubbish bins are overflowing with trash and the area close to the rubbish bins is practically seen as extra open rubbish bins.
Aim of this study
The aim of this study is to analyze the challenges, threats, and identify the routes of the problems, seeking possible plans of improvement or solutions to eliminate waste off public space in Bangkok. Part of the study will be learning from case studies of waste management systems in two different fast-growing economic countries in world namely: Germany and Japan. A comprehensive understanding through analysis of these case studies will enable me to identify missing links, government loopholes, and main problems of the entire waste management systems in Bangkok prior to designing a plan where it is urgently and necessary required of which a designer can step in and initiate. As one of the 12 millions Bangkokians, there is one particular issue that has gotten my great attention: is the seven-eleven convenient stores because it outnumbers every convenient stores and mega supermarkets chains as well as its customer’s friendly policy of bagging every single product for every single customer.
There are 6,300 seven-eleven convenience stores throughout Thailand and almost 3,000 of them are in Bangkok which means each of every 4,000 Bangkokians have their own seven-eleven convenience store. Previous year CP All, the company that runs seven-eleven convenience stores spends 100 millions baht on the cost of plastic bags given in all seven-eleven stores in the whole Thailand. Despite the shockingly large amount of money spent solely on plastic bags, it has become typical for seven-eleven customers to walk out of seven-elven store, take what they need and throw way the plastic bag in the rubbish bin provided at the entrance of the store or on the ground if the rubbish bin is overflowing which is usually the case. Besides the obligatory plastic bags, seven-eleven convenient stores and other supermarkets will also provide you with plastic spoons when you buy a small cup of ice cream, and straws when you purchase any drinks or even when you purchase beer cans or milk carton boxes that come with a straw on the package. To make the point clear, no one can leave the store without a bag even if you only purchase a packet of gum.
According to CP All, the average number of customers per one seven-eleven store is 7,500 customers per day, proving one rubbish bin is clearly not enough, not to mention passers-by who also throws their rubbish into this very same rubbish bin because it is placed by the entrance on the footpaths.
I hope to find a possible solution to this by using my digital media experience combined with graphic design and fine arts background. The methods and tools are yet to be analysed and examined.
Susan Strasser's, Waste and want: a social history of trash