Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: I expected some backlash for my support for a provincial plan to implement a charge for plastic bags, and it came the weekend before last in the form of a strongly-worded open letter to the Phuket Energy Office with the heading: ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’, after the 1975 Supertramp album by the same name.

The letter, by a Canadian who identified himself only as ‘DM Surin Beach’, described the plan alternatively as ‘moronic’, ‘a misguided crusade’, a ‘highly regressive tax on consumption’, ‘of dubious legal standing’, etc.

After a well-written, eight-point argument, he finishes: I…will be the first to boycott any store imposing such a moronic tax as the bag tax.

Attempts by the Gazette to reach the writer to get his real name and permission to run the full letter have met with no reply. Hopefully ‘DM ’ will grant such permission soon, but in the meantime I would like to address the introduction to the letter, which states:

In support of the effort, Mr Stephen Fein of The Phuket Gazette describes a landfill ‘crisis’. Where does he get this idea from? What is the exact nature of this crisis? This is most certainly make-believe hysteria. There is no crisis. Plastic bags do not have a stench. They take up a tiny amount of space.

To this I encourage DM to take a trip down to Saphan Hin to see what is going on there.

As a journalist I try to take a measured approach when applying the word ‘crisis’ to any situation, whether it be the global economy or the environment – or even a darts match. But in my opinion, piling up mostly unsorted garbage at a rate of at least 300 tonnes a day adjacent to the island’s largest municipal park and at less than a meter above the high tide mark in a mangrove area does constitute a crisis.

I am sure the fish farmers who had their stocks wiped out by a toxic effluent plume in June 2007 would agree, as would long-suffering residents of the nearby Ban Saphan Hin. I am sure DB would agree too if all this waste were being piled up in Surin, not Saphan Hin.

It may be true that plastic bags comprise a small percentage of the waste stream by weight or volume, but their excessive use as ‘packaging’ for wet food waste, other organics and even toxic wastes like used batteries is causing a great deal more environmental harm than is necessary.

For the record, the Saphan Hin landfill is also routinely referred to as a ‘crisis’ by local Thai department heads and municipal officials, the same people who typically cheer-lead Phuket as ‘Pearl of the Andaman’.

If even they are calling it a crisis, you have to think it might actually be one.
– Stephen Michael Fein

1

Look at Marks and Spencer and Central Group. They had a 'no plastic bag day' when buying goods and offered a 5% discount too! Good idea? In UK you bring your own bags to Tesco to fill, or you pay for new plastic bags. Always works as most people come by car anyway, so don't need all the bags.

Posted by Mat268 December 15, 2009 12:19:05PM

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2

It is worth noting that one small supermarket in Royal Phuket Marina – Marina Deli – uses biodegradable shopping bags. Not all plastic bags end up in landfill; some end up in the sea where they can do a great deal of damage. Any diver or boater will testify to this.

Isn't it time the big retailers started using biodegradable bags? Having customers pay for bags will cut down the amount of rubbish. People may reuse their bags many times, but ultimately they will be discarded. Biodegradable bags will place no burden on the island's waste disposal facilities and potentially save the marine environment from collateral damage too. Surely a better option?

Posted by Simon Worrall December 15, 2009 12:42:03PM

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3

Well done. I've recently moved back to Europe after fifteen years in Thailand and found this 'pay bag' system is everywhere and works very well. The shops sell large re-usable bags which everyone brings with them as a matter of habit. If they forget, they just have a small charge for thin throwaway bags. After the first few times of paying that charge, shoppers don't forget anymore!

Good luck with the bag project. It's just what Phuket needs... NO MORE PLASTIC!

Our friend DM from Surin Beach is obviousy a person who couldn't care less about the enviroment of Thailand, and one of the people who need to wake up soon!

Posted by Mark Smith December 15, 2009 01:22:08PM

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4

Well that's a little more than embarrassing to think that a fellow Canadian wrote such a nonsense response to this situation. The very same pay/bag system is in Canada in a very big way and it works well. Rather than paying for plastic, many people will carry cloth bags for their groceries or re-use the plastic bags.

The few comments you've shown us – all favorable – certainly do not appear to be those of any Canadians I know. At any rate, Good job, congratulations and keep up the great work!

Posted by Vincent Stone December 15, 2009 01:35:06PM

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5

DM apparently knows NOTHING about plastic bags. The fact of the matter is that they may break up, but they never break down. Once broken down into tiny pieces, they often end up in the digestive systems of various fauna, some of which could be food for humans.

DM should start eating plastic bags and see how it goes. Boycott common sense if you want, DM. I'll balance your 'vote' by boycotting places that don't care about our health and the planet.

Posted by Dave Williams December 15, 2009 02:04:12PM

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6

In South Africa we also had pathetic outcries against charging for plastic bags. (They cost about 5 baht in our case.) And it was the same with our prohibition of smoking in malls and restaurants. But eventually common sense won the day and we all got used to it and would never think of going back.

Here in Phuket, I've even had cloth bags brought out to me from home!

But there could be some problems with the bag project in Thailand, particularly the need to radically alter a mindset. So I do hope that together with the new retailing practices comes a set of guidlines to follow. They'll be needed, especially for those used to bagging even a Mars bar!

Posted by Dave Lombardi December 15, 2009 02:28:00PM

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7

Here, here! It is the "DM"'s type of moronic thinking that has put the GLOBE in bad shape.

Posted by Gerry December 15, 2009 03:26:50PM

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8

If the stores stop supplying plastic bags – which are generally used by people to put their home garbage in – what will happen with the garbage? People are going to have to buy plastic bin liners to replace the bags from the stores previously used for that purpose.

Or are you and the city advocating throwing household and commercial waste into bins or out on the street unbagged?

A very poorly though out project for Phuket, and one that will have no impact at all on the amount of waste collected. It's not an answer to the pollution problem. Better management of the city's waste disposal facilities is.

Posted by John L December 15, 2009 04:17:37PM

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10

A individual who refers to "moronic" as a concept for saving resources is by definition moronic himself. He has his head in the sand. He clearly cannot see that saving anything of our waste is a worthwhile gain. DM is, in my opinion, the embodiment of the 'me-me' society that exists in various parts of the planet.

He is Canadian. He left there and lives here; maybe now we know why. He didn't like the Canadian standards of recycling and environmental protection. Selfish, small-minded, ignorant... whatever. I would suggest that's why he left his real name out of his letter.

Posted by Adam Williams December 15, 2009 06:08:47PM

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11

A individual who refers to "moronic" as a concept for saving resources is by definition moronic himself. He has his head in the sand. He clearly cannot see that saving anything of our waste is a worthwhile gain. DM is, in my opinion, the embodiment of the 'me-me' society that exists in various parts of the planet.

He is Canadian. He left there and lives here; maybe now we know why. He didn't like the Canadian standards of recycling and environmental protection. Selfish, small-minded, ignorant... whatever. I would suggest that's why he left his real name out of his letter.

Posted by Adam Williams

Well said, Adam. Kudos for you, Stephen Michael Fein and the Gazette for helping all of us to understand why environmental ignorance is still so alive and well in Phuket. I get tired of hearing that it's the "local people" who don't understand. But now we know there's at least one Canadian who offers spectacular proof that the problem is rather more international.

By the way, were plastic bags invented in Thailand? I don't think so....

Posted by Sven Nygaard December 15, 2009 06:49:16PM

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12

Agree entirely. All we're going to see is large amounts of rubbish being placed un-bagged in street bins. The dogs will have a wonderful time and the supermarkets will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Posted by geoffphuket December 15, 2009 10:12:50PM

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13

Go for it and charge for plastic bags!

Charging for them as far as I know has been in place in Switzerland since the 1980s, with the result that many shoppers bring their own bags along with them.

 The charge them for the bags is Switzerland is about the equivalent of 5-10 baht. The bags are of a better quality and are stronger than the ones you get now in Phuket, so people reuse them several times when going shopping.

Posted by Godi V December 16, 2009 09:16:02AM

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14

Let's suggest that all revenue collected for plastic bags by those retailers implementing such charges be turned over to the government of Phuket for use in constructing a pre-planned second incinerator. Why allow the retailers to get off the hook for their contribution to pollution when the individual citizens must pay for theirs?

Posted by Robert December 16, 2009 01:47:50PM

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15

I have read the comments and I think everyone is missing a point here. I don’t for one minute disagree with a plastic bag tax.... BUT!

1) This will not discourage people from using plastic bags.

2) Thai people will be disadvantaged. (They can afford less than farang.)

3) Plastic pollution is the problem here.... Why not persuade people to stop throwing rubbish such as plastic bags and drink bottles from their motorcycles and cars onto the streets? (And don't say it doesn’t happen.)

4) Put all plastic waste into the bin and recycle it, not into land fill. (In 20 years time you wont' have a 'Pearl of the Andaman'.) Most plastic is recyclable, but Phuket isn’t.

Environmentally, Phuket has been gradualy going down hill. Education is the real issue here!

Posted by Paul December 16, 2009 04:22:41PM

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16

What is needed is a complete recycling program. Compost vegetable matter; separate plastic, paper and metal. I recall that Japan has a very good recycling program. Either get some pointers from them or start trucking or barging it off the island. The incinerator creates an unhealthy amount of dioxin. Last time I was in Phuket it gave me headaches all the time.

Posted by randy hodge December 17, 2009 06:22:11AM

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17

Dear Stephen Michael Fein, re: 'Crisis? What Crisis?', which you attribute to the 1975 Supertramp album by the same name.

Do you not think it is far more likely that "DM Surin Beach" was actually referring to the Sun Newspaper headline in 1979 which was a phrase allegedly uttered by then Prime Minister James Callaghan after returning from abroad apparently unaware of the garbage crisis that had engulfed Britain in its 'Winter of Discontent'?

One wonders just what your journalistic background is if you think he was referring to a Supertramp album.

Posted by Mike Boyd December 17, 2009 03:13:03PM

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17

Dear Stephen Michael Fein, re: 'Crisis? What Crisis?', which you attribute to the 1975 Supertramp album by the same name.

Do you not think it is far more likely that "DM Surin Beach" was actually referring to the Sun Newspaper headline in 1979 which was a phrase allegedly uttered by then Prime Minister James Callaghan after returning from abroad apparently unaware of the garbage crisis that had engulfed Britain in its 'Winter of Discontent'?

One wonders just what your journalistic background is if you think he was referring to a Supertramp album.

Posted by Mike Boyd December 17, 2009 03:13:03PM

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16

What is needed is a complete recycling program. Compost vegetable matter; separate plastic, paper and metal. I recall that Japan has a very good recycling program. Either get some pointers from them or start trucking or barging it off the island. The incinerator creates an unhealthy amount of dioxin. Last time I was in Phuket it gave me headaches all the time.

Posted by randy hodge December 17, 2009 06:22:11AM

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15

I have read the comments and I think everyone is missing a point here. I don’t for one minute disagree with a plastic bag tax.... BUT!

1) This will not discourage people from using plastic bags.

2) Thai people will be disadvantaged. (They can afford less than farang.)

3) Plastic pollution is the problem here.... Why not persuade people to stop throwing rubbish such as plastic bags and drink bottles from their motorcycles and cars onto the streets? (And don't say it doesn’t happen.)

4) Put all plastic waste into the bin and recycle it, not into land fill. (In 20 years time you wont' have a 'Pearl of the Andaman'.) Most plastic is recyclable, but Phuket isn’t.

Environmentally, Phuket has been gradualy going down hill. Education is the real issue here!

Posted by Paul December 16, 2009 04:22:41PM

Reply

0    0

14

Let's suggest that all revenue collected for plastic bags by those retailers implementing such charges be turned over to the government of Phuket for use in constructing a pre-planned second incinerator. Why allow the retailers to get off the hook for their contribution to pollution when the individual citizens must pay for theirs?

Posted by Robert December 16, 2009 01:47:50PM

Reply

0    0

13

Go for it and charge for plastic bags!

Charging for them as far as I know has been in place in Switzerland since the 1980s, with the result that many shoppers bring their own bags along with them.

 The charge them for the bags is Switzerland is about the equivalent of 5-10 baht. The bags are of a better quality and are stronger than the ones you get now in Phuket, so people reuse them several times when going shopping.

Posted by Godi V December 16, 2009 09:16:02AM

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0    0

12

Agree entirely. All we're going to see is large amounts of rubbish being placed un-bagged in street bins. The dogs will have a wonderful time and the supermarkets will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Posted by geoffphuket December 15, 2009 10:12:50PM

Reply

0    0

11

A individual who refers to "moronic" as a concept for saving resources is by definition moronic himself. He has his head in the sand. He clearly cannot see that saving anything of our waste is a worthwhile gain. DM is, in my opinion, the embodiment of the 'me-me' society that exists in various parts of the planet.

He is Canadian. He left there and lives here; maybe now we know why. He didn't like the Canadian standards of recycling and environmental protection. Selfish, small-minded, ignorant... whatever. I would suggest that's why he left his real name out of his letter.

Posted by Adam Williams

Well said, Adam. Kudos for you, Stephen Michael Fein and the Gazette for helping all of us to understand why environmental ignorance is still so alive and well in Phuket. I get tired of hearing that it's the "local people" who don't understand. But now we know there's at least one Canadian who offers spectacular proof that the problem is rather more international.

By the way, were plastic bags invented in Thailand? I don't think so....

Posted by Sven Nygaard December 15, 2009 06:49:16PM

Reply

0    0

10

A individual who refers to "moronic" as a concept for saving resources is by definition moronic himself. He has his head in the sand. He clearly cannot see that saving anything of our waste is a worthwhile gain. DM is, in my opinion, the embodiment of the 'me-me' society that exists in various parts of the planet.

He is Canadian. He left there and lives here; maybe now we know why. He didn't like the Canadian standards of recycling and environmental protection. Selfish, small-minded, ignorant... whatever. I would suggest that's why he left his real name out of his letter.

Posted by Adam Williams December 15, 2009 06:08:47PM

Reply

0    0

8

If the stores stop supplying plastic bags – which are generally used by people to put their home garbage in – what will happen with the garbage? People are going to have to buy plastic bin liners to replace the bags from the stores previously used for that purpose.

Or are you and the city advocating throwing household and commercial waste into bins or out on the street unbagged?

A very poorly though out project for Phuket, and one that will have no impact at all on the amount of waste collected. It's not an answer to the pollution problem. Better management of the city's waste disposal facilities is.

Posted by John L December 15, 2009 04:17:37PM

Reply

0    0

7

Here, here! It is the "DM"'s type of moronic thinking that has put the GLOBE in bad shape.

Posted by Gerry December 15, 2009 03:26:50PM

Reply

0    0

6

In South Africa we also had pathetic outcries against charging for plastic bags. (They cost about 5 baht in our case.) And it was the same with our prohibition of smoking in malls and restaurants. But eventually common sense won the day and we all got used to it and would never think of going back.

Here in Phuket, I've even had cloth bags brought out to me from home!

But there could be some problems with the bag project in Thailand, particularly the need to radically alter a mindset. So I do hope that together with the new retailing practices comes a set of guidlines to follow. They'll be needed, especially for those used to bagging even a Mars bar!

Posted by Dave Lombardi December 15, 2009 02:28:00PM

Reply

0    0

5

DM apparently knows NOTHING about plastic bags. The fact of the matter is that they may break up, but they never break down. Once broken down into tiny pieces, they often end up in the digestive systems of various fauna, some of which could be food for humans.

DM should start eating plastic bags and see how it goes. Boycott common sense if you want, DM. I'll balance your 'vote' by boycotting places that don't care about our health and the planet.

Posted by Dave Williams December 15, 2009 02:04:12PM

Reply

0    0

4

Well that's a little more than embarrassing to think that a fellow Canadian wrote such a nonsense response to this situation. The very same pay/bag system is in Canada in a very big way and it works well. Rather than paying for plastic, many people will carry cloth bags for their groceries or re-use the plastic bags.

The few comments you've shown us – all favorable – certainly do not appear to be those of any Canadians I know. At any rate, Good job, congratulations and keep up the great work!

Posted by Vincent Stone December 15, 2009 01:35:06PM

Reply

0    0

3

Well done. I've recently moved back to Europe after fifteen years in Thailand and found this 'pay bag' system is everywhere and works very well. The shops sell large re-usable bags which everyone brings with them as a matter of habit. If they forget, they just have a small charge for thin throwaway bags. After the first few times of paying that charge, shoppers don't forget anymore!

Good luck with the bag project. It's just what Phuket needs... NO MORE PLASTIC!

Our friend DM from Surin Beach is obviousy a person who couldn't care less about the enviroment of Thailand, and one of the people who need to wake up soon!

Posted by Mark Smith December 15, 2009 01:22:08PM

Reply

0    0

2

It is worth noting that one small supermarket in Royal Phuket Marina – Marina Deli – uses biodegradable shopping bags. Not all plastic bags end up in landfill; some end up in the sea where they can do a great deal of damage. Any diver or boater will testify to this.

Isn't it time the big retailers started using biodegradable bags? Having customers pay for bags will cut down the amount of rubbish. People may reuse their bags many times, but ultimately they will be discarded. Biodegradable bags will place no burden on the island's waste disposal facilities and potentially save the marine environment from collateral damage too. Surely a better option?

Posted by Simon Worrall December 15, 2009 12:42:03PM

Reply

0    0

1

Look at Marks and Spencer and Central Group. They had a 'no plastic bag day' when buying goods and offered a 5% discount too! Good idea? In UK you bring your own bags to Tesco to fill, or you pay for new plastic bags. Always works as most people come by car anyway, so don't need all the bags.

Posted by Mat268 December 15, 2009 12:19:05PM

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