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Old habits die hard: Stores try to cut down on plastic bags, but shoppers remain stubborn

Sep 08. 2019
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By The Nation

After a rescued dugong died from ingesting plastic bags, Thailand has been on high alert about plastic pollution. This topic is being widely discussed among Thai netizens, who have been suggesting many measures, including controlling the use of plastic bags at supermarkets and convenience stores.

Upon asking CP All – the owner of 7-Eleven convenience stores – about their measures and results, it said they have enforced a strong policy to reduce the use of plastic over 10 years. Its campaign, “reduce plastic bags every day, you can do it”, has saved the company the cost of 646 million plastic bags, and this money saved will be donated to hospitals for medical equipment. As of August 29, CP All said it has donated Bt126 million.

Tesco Lotus began campaigning for customers to “say no to plastic” since 2015 and even introduced a variety of incentives such as reward points. As of August this year, Tesco had implemented a policy of not giving out plastic bags for purchases of one or two items at all its 1,800 hypermarkets.

According to Amazon Café, the number of clients who bring their own cup for coffee has risen from around 1.8 million in January 15 to 2.2 million by August 15. In about seven months, Amazon coffee shops were reportedly able to reduce the use of 16.7 million plastic cups, averaging at 2.2 million cups per month

However, when we monitored the Amazon Café near Interlink Tower during lunch break for an hour, we discovered that not a single person had brought their own cup to the coffeeshop. This is even though staff insisted that 20 to 30 regular clients brought their own cup for a Bt5 discount.

We also wanted to see if the behaviour of shoppers has really changed.

So, on August 31, we decided to count the number of customers at Tesco Lotus and 7-Eleven who rejected plastic bags. The test at Tesco Lotus (Seacon Square) ran for an hour from 12.45pm, and we found that 453 shoppers still asked for plastic bags, while only 29 either rejected a plastic bag or used their own cloth bag.

During the hour, we discovered that on average, individual shoppers used one or two plastic bags, while a family of four averaged at eight to 10 plastic bags. There were eight shoppers who used both plastic bags for wet products and cloth bags for dry products.

Another test at a 7-Eleven opposite Central Plaza Bangna for an hour from 10am showed that 27 customers still demanded plastic bags, while 23 people who bought either cigarettes, bottled water or coffee rejected plastic bags. Only three people were seen bringing their own bags.

After learning about our tests, Tesco Lotus announced on September 2 that all express checkout lanes at 200 of its hypermarts will become “green lanes” and will not give out plastic bags. It said its goal is to close the loop on packaging, not to just limit single-use plastic bags.

Though it is not yet clear if the measure will work, the company is obviously taking a first step towards a better environment.

The government recently announced that by the end of this year, Thailand will stop producing three types of plastic – microbeads, cap seals and oxo-degradable plastic. It also aims to stop single-use plastics by 2022.

Though the joint effort by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and the supermarket network has reduced more than 2 billion plastic bags or 5,755 tonnes of plastic valued at Bt400 million since July 21, 2018 to August 31, 2019, experts doubt if this is enough to end the pollution.

Anusorn Tamajai, dean of Economics Faculty at Rangsit University, said that the government must come up with both short and long-term measures to tackle the pollution problem, and suggested the introduction of pollution tax.

Though many conservation organisations and related government agencies have suggested that the state impose “green” or “pollution” tax to tackle the problems of air and plastic pollution, there has been no clear message on the subject from the government.

Another suggestion is to impose the “polluter pays” principle, in which the producer of the pollution must cover the cost of damaging people’s health or the environment.

This policy has proved to be successful in many countries. Ireland was one of the first countries to levy a tax on plastic bags in 2002 and has managed to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic bags by 90 per cent, generating US$9.6 million (Bt294 million) for environmental projects.


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