Thailand — one of the biggest contributors to ocean pollution — is the latest country to ban plastic bags. The single-use plastic bag ban came into effect on January 1, 2020 and will apply to all major retailers; a complete ban including independent shops will kick-in in 2021. Since the ban came into effect, Thai shoppers have come up with ingenious alternatives to plastic bags. Buckets, suitcases, wheelbarrows, fishing nets, and bird cages are among the unlikely items being utilised to bring groceries home.
The Thais’ quick acceptance of the plastic bag ban has been widely praised on social media. “Thailand started 2020 with a major plastic bag ban so now Thais have made it a trend to put their shopping in random things and I’m living for it!” wrote @sihamese on Twitter. One Facebook album featuring more than 70 images of people’s creativity has been shared more than 100,000 times.
Thailand’s government has also slapped a ban on non-biodegradable plastic microbeads commonly used in cosmetics, declaring them an environmental hazard. When washed down the drain, the microscopic spherical beads often slip through treatment systems and end up in the ocean and, ultimately, the food chain.
Ahead of the plastic bag ban, the Thai government ran aggressive ad campaigns in the hope their use would become as taboo as smoking, public nudity, and violent crime. The government's effort to shame plastic bag use seems to have had an immediate effect with government statistics showing a drastic reduction in waste. Indeed, the Natural Resources and Environment ministry says, in 2019, the country reduced the use of plastic bags by two billion — or about 5,765 tonnes. “Thailand was ranked sixth among the world’s top countries that dump waste into the sea,” said the environment minister, Varawut Silpa-Archa. “During the last six months, we [have moved] down to 10th . . . thanks to the cooperation of the Thai people.”