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Bangkok’s Fight Against Plastic Waste

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by Juliane Little, Account Executive, Precious Plastics Bangkok

 

 

 

 

 

Did you know that plastic doesn’t actually decompose? Over time it’ll start to break down into smaller pieces called microplastics; however, it’ll never fully be removed from our planet.

So how do we expect to tackle this ever-growing issue about plastic waste? While there is no short or easy answer, there are steps we can begin to take towards a brighter, better future.

Let me first introduce myself… My name is Juliane Little and I’m an expat, who has lived in Thailand for just over 2 years now. It was my love for adventure, the ocean, and beauty that brought me all the way from the USA to this beautiful country. Within a short few months, I started to notice there is a huge issue with plastic consumption and recycling in Thailand. This plastic waste comes in all shapes and sizes and is used by teachers, construction workers, people on holiday and even by myself.

Plastic is the ultimate convenience. It’s cheap to make and buy, it’s extremely versatile, and it’s strong. All of these benefits make it easy to forget the potential harm one straw or bottle cap can actually do. We assume that once we dispose if it, it magically disappears. However, we are starting to realize the harsh truth and it’s coming back to bite us (quite literally). Our oceans and lands are being overrun with waste, and animals have turned to plastic as a source of food. There are already traces of plastic in the fish that we are consuming. Scientists have even predicted that by the year 2050 – there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish (by weight).

Ocean Marina, Pattaya, Thailand

After some random web searching, I came across a plastic recycling project, which I immediately thought, “this is what Bangkok needs, this is what the world needs.” I’ve found that many people don’t get involved in volunteer work or conservation efforts, because they don’t know where to start. Trust me – it’s hard, especially living in a foreign country!

Thanks to Dave Hakkens, that is about to change.

Precious Plastics is a project created by Dave Hakkens, which helps people around the world set up their own local plastic workshops. Hakkens’ open source website gives A to Z instructions on how to build all the machines needed to break down plastic and turn it into something new. The possibilities are endless and the creativity doesn’t end on their website. The hope of this project is to encourage upcycling and provide an educational work place for the community.

I have decided to tackle the project and create a Previous Plastics workshop here in Bangkok. Our mission for the Bangkok workshop is to educate the community on plastic waste and consumption. We would achieve this by holding workshops around how to properly use our recycling machines and turn plastic back it back into raw material. This can then be used to create new tools and objects for use and even to sell. During these workshops we will provide tips on avoiding one-time use plastic and lowering your plastic waste footprint! Once you are properly trained on safety and usage, you’ll have free access to the workshop where you are able to upcycle whatever you can think of.

While this project is in its initial stages, we have already had a lot of positive feedback from the community and people who are eager to support in anyway possible. Our next step is to build the machines and find them a temporary home.

If you are interested in getting involved, please reach out to me personally or follow us on Facebook! What we need the most are people who are passionate about saving the planet and reducing plastic pollution. There are many steps we need to take to get this project off the ground and I would love to have you join our team. Feel free to follow the page for updates on our project and also tips to becoming more eco-friendly.

Through the Precious Plastic’s Bangkok Project, I hope to spread more awareness of plastic pollution and give back to the community. Join our cause and let’s get one step closer to a greener, healthier planet.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author(s) and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

 

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 By Michelle Groothedde, Associate Intern Sustainability & Social Responsibility, Pacific Asia Travel Association.

In Doi Inthanon National park, about 90 kilometres from Chiang Mai, in the North of Thailand, two communities, Pha Mon and Mae Klang Luang, both ethnic Karen communities, have worked in community based tourism for 11 and 18 years respectively. On a mini field trip we visited the two villages that are only 30 minutes apart and looked at the differences between them regarding history, product range, management, experience, and target markets. The villages are beautifully located in the mountains surrounded by stunning rice fields. 

The trip was organised in order to learn from CBT in Thailand for the Myanmar CBT Network. The Myanmar Community-Based Tourism Network was set up in March 2016 as a joint initiative of Tourism Transparency and ActionAid and is an informal network that provides a platform of exchange for interested stakeholders, such as travel agents/tour operators, tour guides, NGOs, communities, and government.

 

 

Community based tourism (CBT) means that tourists visit a local community, which is often located in rural and well-preserved areas, to get a rich and engaging experience of a local community’s traditional cultures and way of life. The community benefits from CBT by getting that little bit of extra income that can be used for various things, such as support in education, construction, environmental projects, and medical care. CBT is a real challenge for these communities as they struggle with cultural differences between themselves and tourists, and the changes and fear of losing their culture and identity that tourism brings.

Pha Mon 

Pha Mon is home to about 600 Karen people and earns approximately 1,000,000 Baht per year from CBT. Pha Mon is located 30 minutes off the main road, which makes it secluded. They offer a high value and high price experience. Their main target market are French tourists as they have established a long-term partnership with a French tour operator, Thailande Autrement, who was looking for a local community partner to further develop their cultural programmes. Pha Mon occasionally receives Thai visitors but mostly for day visits.

 

 

The average stay in Pha Mon is 3 day and 2 nights. Tourists arrive at Pha Mon village in the late afternoon, after which they are welcomed by the CBT village coordinator and have dinner. The next day the guide takes them for a walk through the village to learn about the village and its culture. They are taken around the fields, as the main source of income for both villages is agriculture and in both villages, agriculture comes before tourism, especially when it is time to harvest and all farmers are needed on the field. The Royal Project has had quite a big impact on CBT in the village and has helped to provide more income to farmers since it started.

 

 

Tourists have the chance to buy souvenirs in the form of crafted items like woven bags, traditional clothes, and baskets directly from the lady weavers. They can watch the weavers at work and can even have a go at the weaving themselves. They also learn about different food and fruits while visiting the village and villagers often invite tourists to taste and have a look around. At specific times a year the village offers traditional ceremonies performed in their paddies on the hillside during which they carry baskets with bright flowers. This is also an initiative supported by the Royal Project. After the visit to the village, the tourists can then hike to the top of Doi Thenon, which usually lasts about 2-3 hours. On this trail guests can do bird watching as this area is home to many different types of birds. There are also possibilities to do cycling tours on the mountain tracks.

 

 

 

The Pink Bamboo House 

The accommodation Pha Mon offers is called the Pink Bamboo House.

The Pink Bamboo House is located a short distance from the village surrounded by stunning rice fields with the mountains in the background. The community built the Pink Bamboo House itself and did an incredible job. It has 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms with a large balcony on the first floor spanning the length of the house, inviting you to relax and enjoy the amazing views. There are beautiful little details visible in the house such as bamboo towel holders (there are many bamboo household items in the house that the construction men weaved in themselves), comfortable Thai mats to relax, and a bamboo hammock on the ground floor and it really shows the level of detail and love put into the construction of this house.

 

 

The Pink Bamboo House offers a high value and high price experience to the tourists. The house is earning the village over 1,000,000 THB per year, which is about US$30,000 and there are approximately 140 families that participated in the construction of it. The villagers mostly offer their labour in exchange for a share. The earnings from the Pink Bamboo House go to a community fund, which is used for education, environmental activities, small construction, house maintenance, and to help people in the village.

 

 

In addition to the extra income, there are more reasons for Pho Mon to engage in CBT practices. First of all, the village wants to show tourists how Karen people live in harmony with the forest and demonstrate their sustainable forest practices. They also want to teach them the local ways and culture of the village and believe it is a way of motivating community members to work together.

 

Lunch is served, all homegrown produce.

The direct benefits from community-based tourism in the village are obvious as it creates more income and more jobs, but what are the challenges?

 

Overcoming the different opinions and fears about CBT and to decide if the village wants to invite tourists to their village was the initial problem and will probably remain an issue for some time. CBT inevitably brings changes and especially the older generation is worried that their traditional culture and way of living will change in a negative way or even disappear completely. Because of the extra income CBT generates for the village, the younger generation now attends school and often university in Chiang Mai. After their studies, young adults are encouraged to come back to the village but often find it hard to find their way in the old lifestyle again. They bring modernisation to the village and the older generation doesn’t know how to manage or deal with that and believes that tourism just accelerates the problem.

 

Tomatoes grown at the village

 

Then there are some problems with communication to outside parties and organisations they work with, or that have an influence on CBT in the village. These include the national park, the government, the Royal Project, tour operators, tourists, and the Community Development Organisation. The community’s culture is the initial reason the village attracts tourists and that is what they want to display but it is sometimes difficult for the village to make outside organisations understand their norms, values and way of living. Tourists are often unaware of their expected behaviour in the village, for example, about dress code when outside the house. Villagers were often shocked when visitors would wear revealing clothes and sunbathe on the balcony. The inappropriateness of this can be difficult to communicate because of language barriers. 

 

Our tour guide for the day: local tour guide Surasit

 

The CBT village committee tries to counteract these challenges through communication and activities that help to mitigate these challenges, such as educating local guides, tourists, and villagers about different cultures and raising awareness on both sides.

 

Mae Klang Luang

 

Mae Klang Luang has a population of approximately 700 people and earns about the same amount of money per year as Pha Mon, but only by accepting larger groups at a cheaper price. Annually, an estimated 10,000 people visit the village; about 70% of them are day visitors, only 30% stay overnight and then mostly during winter season. It is noticeable that 95% of the visitors are Thai. More and more Thai students spend a night or two in the CBT village, enjoying the peace and quiet of their surroundings and the scenic environment outside the village. Mae Klang Luang is located at the entrance of Doi Intanon National Park close to the main road, which facilitates visitor flows in comparison with the more secluded Pha Mon.

 

One of the CBT houses in Mae Klang Luang.

 

For 18 years, Mae Klang Luang has been inviting tourists to stay in their community. Initially 20 villagers were involved in the CBT project and it has now developed to 80 people being involved, including people from outside communities investing in the project. The village has 11 homestay houses that are part of the CBT group, and there are also some independent houses for private homestay. Like Pha Mon, the money derived from CBT is mostly used within the village. All the CBT houses have similar prices, although the independent houses have set their own.

Tourist activities include a walk through the village, taking pictures in the new bamboo hut (specifically constructed to accommodate tourists who want to get a closer look at the rice paddies without destroying them), do a coffee tasting and then have the chance to buy the coffee. They also visit the women’s group that works together in custom weaving and tourists can buy those products as well. Mae Klang Luang is also known for its walking trail through beautiful scenery to a scenic waterfall.

 

The new bamboo hut constructed to avoid damaging the rice paddies.

 

What are the challenges in Mae Klang Luang?

 

The biggest challenge here is the same as in Pha Mon, namely, changes in culture. There have been significant changes in the village because of CBT and people in the village have different opinions on CBT and are sometimes struggling to manage it. Mae Klang Luang is different to Pha Mon because of its location and accessibility, and therefore CBT in Mae Klang Luang has grown rapidly and continues to grow. While Pha Mon only accommodates a small number of tourists, Mae Klang Luang offers a range of different accommodations and accommodates mainly day visitors. Therefore, CBT has a bigger and more visible impact in this village and is more dependent on tourism.

 

Another big challenge that Mae Klang Luang may face in the future is the competition between the private homestays and the CBT group. Initially, the independent houses were working well together with the CBT houses, but that is changing. There are more often conflicts between the two parties because the independent houses set their own prices. Managing two different systems like this is difficult. While the CBT group has clear rules and regulations and aims to contribute to the community through its community fund, independent homestays apparently tend to reduce their contribution due to the high individual cost. This complicates fairly and easily distributing benefits arising from tourism.

 

The chief of Mae Klang Luang is telling us about CBT in the village, Surasit is translating from Thai to English. 

 

Finding a balance

Pha Mon and Mae Klang Luang face both similar and different challenges doing community based tourism in the villages while having similar ways to address these challenges.

First of all, both villages have a management system in place, which is led by an elected group of people that organise every aspect of CBT in the villages. The idea is that CBT brings benefits to the overall community. The group has a coordinator who acts as a spokesperson and functions as a link between the village and outside organisations. Both villages hold monthly or 2-monthly meetings and all issues that may arise are addressed. Anybody in the village can raise concerns and the issues are then dealt with. In Pha Mon, profit is distributed as a set percentage system. Mae Klang Luang has a similar system and committee. This management system helps to keep track of all activities and income related to CBT and aims to distribute income fairly and equally.

 

 

There is now an excellent communication system, both internal and external, which makes the CBT experience better for everybody. Key to the long-term success of CBT in these villages is that the villagers themselves hold all control. There are many organisations trying to pressure and influence CBT activities but in the end all decisions go through the CBT management group in the village. The strength of the village is their united front as every member of the community counts and have a voice. Issues are addressed and discussed and they decide on the best possible solution by compromising. These villages are a best practice example of CBT that benefits both community and tourist. Tourism improves living standards of the community in the village while maintaining their culture and the natural environment. Tourists benefit from the environmental and cultural activities the village offers to give them a rich and deep understanding of the village’s culture in a responsible way.

 

Learning about CBT in Mae Klang Luang.

 

In a way they are stuck between authenticity and development and the key is to find a balance between the two to benefit from it and move forward, without losing their identity. It was hard for some people to accept CBT but the true values of the villages are still very evident and treasured, which is what makes them so special. Tourism can have a destructing effect on destinations after their discovery because of increased popularity but by controlling each and every decision based on integrity instead of monetary benefits, the effect of tourism in these villages is minimal, which benefits the village as well as the tourist as they can continue to experience a true and authentic Thai village in the mountains.

 

If you are interested in visiting either Pha Mon or Mae Klang Luang, or want to know more about the CBT network, click on the links. Learn more about the people on this field trip by clicking the links below: 

 

From left to right: Surasit Donjaipraiwan from Inthanon Dek Doi, local guide who is ex-coordinator of the Phamon CBT group Peter Richards, co-founder of the Thailand Community Based Tourism Institute (CBT-I), Michelle Groothedde, PATA Associate Intern Sustainability & Social Responsibility, Barbara Schott, Tourism Transparency, and Potjana Suansri,  former CBT-I director, CBT pioneer in Thailand, volunteering on this field trip.

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Mahouts rest as their elephants eat fruit in Chiang Mai. Credit: The Antlantic

While Western activists focus on the animals, their handlers are often treated as expendable.

Mahouts today are caught in a catch-22. Tourists have come to believe that traditional tools like chains and bullhooks are inherently unethical, but still want to be able to have up-close-and-personal interactions with elephants. “I use a bullhook because some elephants we cannot control with our hands,” one mahout explained. “Humans are small. Elephants spook easily and are dangerous. If elephants get scared, they kill people.”

“By working with mahouts to improve their treatment of elephants while also acknowledging the difficult lives mahouts often live themselves, we can positively impact the captive elephant situation as a whole. Criticizing a culture that is not your own does not help change it.”

There are many more aspects to consider that outsiders tend to forget when thinking about elephant welfare. Read the full article to see things from a different perspective considering culture, habitat, and elephant welfare.

By Hilary Cadigan for The Atlantic.

 

 

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The clan jetties have been overwhelmed by tourists since receiving Unesco world heritage status. Photograph: gracethang/Getty Images

 

The gambling-ridden clan jetties of Malaysia’s George Town were saved from ruin by the award of Unesco world heritage status, but their new fame left locals overwhelmed by a tide of invasive tourism. Can we ever get the balance right?

Chew Jetty in Malaysia’s George Town attracts tourists by the boatload. Historic homes are now commercial stalls branded with neon signs; one-time fishermen peddle T-shirts, magnets and postcards. Tour buses deposit vacationers from early in the morning until well after sunset.

 

The daily intrusion has clearly taken a toll: windows are boarded, “no photo” signs are pervasive, and tenants quickly vanish at the sight of a foreign face.

 

“I would like to remind people that we are not monkeys, and this is not a zoo,” says Lee Kah Lei, who runs a souvenir stall outside her home on the Chew Jetty.

 

Read the full article about the struggle to strike the balance between the economic benefits of catering to visitors and preserving the culture that drew the recognition.

 

By Laignee Barron for The Guardian.

 

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Credit: Shutterstock

Rising demand for Thai organic goods in both local and export markets has prompted the government to pursue a range of initiatives aimed at encouraging organic farming practices.

 

The state is launching a new programme to promote organic agriculture by encouraging a reduction in the amount of new rice planting, and a shift from commercial varieties to organic strains …

Read more here. 

 

By Oxford Business Group

 

 

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On a recent holiday to Koh Samui, Thailand, PATA Marketing and Communications Intern Kaitlin Corbeil took the opportunity to hold an impromptu interview with Mr Korakot Nachalaem, Resort Manager at Six Senses Resort.

In this interview, Mr Nachalaem talks about the success of the resort’s sustainable practices, explaining how the property utilizes its island environment, transforms food waste into profit and highlights the need for sustainable habits both in the industry and in the lives of all individuals. He also took a moment to provide a guided tour of the property’s self-managed goat and chicken farm, a key component of the resort’s strategic sustainability policy.

Six Senses is just one example of how hotels can take steps to manage their food waste and environmental impact, providing an encouraging example that should inspire other hotel and resort properties to do the same.

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Photographer: Wayne Lawrence for Bloomberg Businessweek

A mahout, wearing the traditional mohom outfit—denim, red neckerchief, and yellow straw hat—sits atop an elephant at Anantara.

Anantara Golden Triangle in northern Thailand is one of the only places where you can ethically interact with the country’s elephants.

 

I’m half-submerged in the Mekong River—the watery border that ­separates Laos from Thailand and Myanmar—sitting atop a big-eared, pink-spotted, 3-ton elephant named Poonlarp. Her skin looks soft from a distance, but it’s much coarser up close, covered in inch-long bristles. Her gait, which at first gives the appearance of flowing-through-honey movement, feels wobbly up this high. She’s alternately headstrong and playful. If you’ve ever walked a large, stubborn dog, you have an idea what it’s like to ride an elephant. This is the ­bucket-list item that brings people here to Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort.

 

Read more about ethically interacting with elephants at the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort here. 

 

 

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Over a year ago, the United Nations adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which collectively represent millions of dreams and aspirations. GreenBiz, in partnership with the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, is publishing 17 letters by Yale University students that highlight the ideas of youth regarding the 2030 developmental agenda. This series seeks to drive forward the collective will to translate the SDGs into reality.

Dear Secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),

A friend recently told me about Ko Tao, a scuba diver’s dream of an island in Thailand where scuba enthusiasts from all over the world converge to spend morning to night submerged in a vast underwater wonderland of coral and fish, and then fill their remaining waking hours discussing dive sites and marine sights. This went on my list of future vacation spots — an ever-growing list of (mostly) dive sites in Southeast Asia that I wonder if I ever actually will see.

 

Read the rest of the letter and the full article here. 

By Maki Tazawa from GreenBiz.

 

 

 

 

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Credit: Shutterstock

The unpredictable south west monsoon has arrived in destinations across south east Asia. These heavy rains, essential for agriculture, may nevertheless dampen the spirits of international visitors. The rains may also, with planning and aforethought, dent the bottom line forecasts of even the most experience travel industry operators.

 

To manage issues arising during the monsoon season it may prove beneficial for industry players to place more emphasis on the needs of eco-friendly travellers.

 

Read on for some basic tips on how to create an eco-friendly package during the monsoon season:

 

  1. Say ‘no’ to plastic coats

Instead of handing out disposable plastic ponchos to your guests, rent out umbrellas, offer high quality rain jackets or hand out eco-friendly (biodegradable) ponchos. Some companies allow you to print your company’s logo on the products as a way of raising your brand’s profile and making a clear statement about what your business stands for. Be careful to choose PFC-free products. Yes, being sustainable can help grow your business.

 

  1. Provide an eco-friendly insect repellent

Mosquitoes love the monsoon rains. Be sure to protect your guests from irritating mosquito bites while still being conscious of their health and the environment. Brands such as Cutter or Repel carry eco-friendly repellent. Handing out a portable mosquito net can work as well. Here are some other natural and easy ways to repel mosquitos.

 

  1. Choose the right activity

Offering the right activity can be challenging during the rainy season. Consider offering sustainable outdoor activities in your package that take advantage (safely) of the heavy rains, such as river rafting or visiting a rice farm. Even indoor activities such as cooking or crafting classes can be enjoyable ways in which to experience local culture.

 

  1. Encourage travelling

Before the guests arrive, send them a reminder about what clothes to pack for the rainy season. Light, eco-friendly attire dries quickly after a heavy rainfall and it is also lighter to carry, thereby helping to reduce CO2 emissions.

 

Make the most of this season as travellers are now looking for good deals, fewer crowds, and eco-friendly operators. The monsoon seasons of south east Asia have it all.

 

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Credit: Shutterstock

The South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH will enter into a partnership to collaborate on strengthening tourism in the Pacific region.

The long-term objective is to advise the tourism industry, in particular the hotel sector, on renewable energy and energy efficiency options.

Signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in Suva today, GIZ Programme Director, Dr. Wulf Killmann and SPTO Board Chair, Papalii Matatamalii Sonja Hunter expressed their excitement about this new collaboration.

“Through this partnership, SPTO will seek out opportunities to organise workshops and seminars in collaboration with GIZ so we can provide our tourism industry stakeholders with an understanding of best practices for renewable energy solutions and energy efficiency,” Ms. Hunter said.

Read the full article here.

 

By South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) 

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