The Problems of Waste Management in Bangkok

A Greener Bangkok: the State of the Thai Capital

Open-air city-center dumps, a total absence of street litter bins, an impractical waste recycling system and rampant overuse of plastic grocery bags are all evidence that Bangkok has a huge waste and waste management problem. Recently, the over-usage and production of plastic has caught the attention of the public (unavoidable, considering that at 7-Eleven bananas can be found individually packed, and that street food vendors usually use two or more plastic bags to hand out their goods), and initiatives to contrast and reduce plastic waste have spread in the whole capital city[1]. But the situation remains problematic: the Chao Phraya remains one of the most polluted rivers in the world[2], no major recycling company picks up and organizes separated collection of waste in a widespread area, signing contracts with single condominiums and industries, and public initiatives on the matter are still rare and ineffective[3].


There are many standpoints we can analyze this problem from. To start, Thai people are not well educated on what recycling is and how an individual’s actions can make a difference. Just very few Thais are surprised by the fact that there are no dead batteries disposals, and the vast majority is not concerned at all in throwing everything in the same bin, regardless of the harm it can do the environment. Initiatives to raise awareness are increasing, such as online blogs that aim to teach the recycling etiquette to Thai people[4], but reports claim the incentives are needed for making sure that Thai people actually recycle[5]. A cultural revolution is necessary for the situation to improve. And, in fact, the culture is slowly starting to change, cashiers now ask you, sometimes, if a plastic bag is necessary before packing, but the path towards a widespread recognition of the problem is still long.


Another issue is the little integration between public and private sectors in waste management. The Government directions are not properly followed by most of the companies operating in the recycling business, resulting in a deterioration of the situation rather than an improvement[6]. Plastic production is still at very high levels, despite the Government master plan for the reduction of production and consumption of it, and it is very difficult for citizens to recycle if their condominium or workplace does not have a direct contract with a company. No separated bins can be found in the streets, and finding bins is hard enough already, and waste-reduction initiatives are few, and mostly led by expats[7].


The lack of attention to this subject has led to open-air, road-side and empty-lot dumps popping up around the city. Bangkok has an abundance of unmanaged landfills multiplied over the years that are not only a hazard to the environment, but also to the nearby inhabitants. Unmanaged garbage usually harms the city in two ways: it penetrates the surface, contaminating the ground water, and, as it is often illegally burned to solve the problem, pollutes the air with toxic emissions, severely damaging the citizens health.


Recycling is just the tip of the iceberg. The non-production of litter should be elevated within the waste hierarchy, at the expense of disposal. Implementing waste prevention programs would mean dealing with smaller amounts of litter, which would boost the efficiency of recycling and proper waste disposal programs[8].


Thailand needs companies to invest in the waste management sector, but some issues obstruct possible collaborations. The topic is yet to be considered fundamental by the country, and policies are discussed with a future-oriented perspective. Furthermore, companies who intend to invest in this sector in Thailand see their path blocked by a language barrier. The official website of the Pollution Control Department, for example, is only available in Thai, making it difficult for foreign companies to learn and stay informed on the matter. However, projects can be taken under consideration. The 2016-2021 Solid Waste Management Master Plan aims to pursue the 3R scheme (reduce, reuse and recycle)[9]. As the market is still open to new companies willing to invest in recycling, waste prevention programs and creating awareness, Thailand will consider any serious proposal would help eliminate the garbage problem in the capital.