September 23, 2015

Private Enterprise and Recycling in Thailand


Given Recycle Creative's close association with Thailand and our passion for reusing waste materials we thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at recycling in the kingdom. How is waste processed and in what ways are private enterprise, government, and local communities involved in recycling?

Reyclable waste in Thailand  is in many ways an untapped resource, just waiting to be turned into cold hard cash. According to a 2015 OECD report more than 60% of the waste making up Bangkok’s landfill is either compostable or recyclable. Currently there is some attention being given to the construction of waste-to-energy plants, a technology that is able to generate electricity by incinerating solid, supposedly non-recyclable waste. However this solution is far from perfect given that eventhe most modern plants are capable of emitting potentially harmful levels of heavy metals and dioxins into the atmosphere. There is also the argument that these plants  deter recycling efforts and in fact incinerate waste that could otherwise be reclaimed.  A preferable outcome in terms of the environment and generating value is to recycle this waste, preferably before it reaches landfill. In the absence of an effective waste separation system both at the household level and at waste transfer stations this is difficult as mixed landfill waste is made up of many varied materials. To give you some idea, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration reported in 2013 that some 11% of rubbish entering waste transfer stations consisted of conventional recyclable materials such as recycled paper, recycled plastic, foam, glass, and metals. A further 39% of waste was classified as non-recyclable, including potentially reusable materials such as leather and rubber (1.5%) and textiles (4%). The OECD report argues that there is a need to treat the problem at its source by raising citizen awareness of the need to sort household waste before collection, but this is difficult when there is no formalised kerbside recycling program.  As is often the case in Thailand, private enterprise is taking up the slack, encouraging recycling through a burgeoning waste collection industry which recognises the value adding potential of waste.  The backbone of the industry is the humble “khuad ma khay”. These are the industrious folk who pedal around the cities and towns on their converted bicycles collecting recyclable garbage and in the process diverting it from landfill. They load up their bikes with plastic and glass bottles, paper and cardboard, after which they take their bounty to the nearest waste collection centre where it is exchanged for cash. Such community oriented recycling efforts are now becoming more formalised, for example with the establishment of the Zero-Baht Shop, a means for low income earners to trade recyclable waste for essential  goods and services, or  exchange for a deposit of equal value into their bank accounts. The OECD report states that as of 2013 there were 12 Zero-Baht shops in operation throughout Thailand.

One of the biggest recycling success stories in Thailand is the Wongpanit  company . The philosophy of the company is summed up on its homepage by the phrase "waste is gold"  Founded by Dr Somthai Wongcharoen, Wongpanit is a pioneer in the development of recycled waste separation technology and the transformation of recyclables into value-added products. There are now over 400 Wongpanit recycling centres  located throughout the kingdom, having a processing capacity of around 500 tonnes per day, and collecting and transforming a variety of materials including plastic, paper, metal, glass, office equipment, and e-waste. The company has achieved success with its franchise business model by building local supply chains which are based on strong relationships with collectors, franchisees, and communities. Wongpanit has also worked in close association with the Thai Government’s waste bank program, an initiative aimed at raising awareness and encouraging the participation of students, teachers, and parents in recycling programs. The results have been encouraging. In the province of Nonthaburi for example, efforts to improve recycling awareness have led to a 3% increase in overall recycling from 2006 to 2010.

 Clearly there is an environmental benefit associated with improved recycling rates, but the real incentive is financial i.e. a tonne of mixed recyclables is capable of generating 11,300 Thai Baht (A$ 450). As waste collection within Thailand becomes more formalised along with improvements in recycling technologies, there is plenty of scope for growth within the Thai recycling industry. The acknowledgement of waste materials as a key resource is only likely to gain momentum as it becomes easier to reuse that which already exists, in contrast to creating new materials from scarce natural resources.

Take a look at our products page to see the handmade goods we craft from waste materials. 
OECD 2015 ‘Green Growth Studies Growth in Bangkok, Thailand’
Waste Management World ‘Thai Style Recycling’
Wongpanit Company ‘About Page’