Interview with Thailand's administrative officials involved in waste processing
Thailand's social collaboration challenge and potential
in terms of waste processing
Amidst rapid economic development, Thailand is reported to generate the largest amount of waste per capita in Asia. Health issues from deteriorated sanitation levels and risk of ecological damage from the expansion of waste disposal sites are emerging as serious national issues. The Sasakawa Pan Asia Fund has invited Thai experts in waste management administration, allowing them to inspect Japan's innovative waste processing facilities and exchange opinions with Japanese experts and those involved in waste management. This visitation program is aimed at providing useful information to Thailand, currently exploring better ways of waste processing, in their efforts to enhance relevant laws and administration systems, and helping Japan broaden its scope of bilateral cooperation in this area, thereby contributing to expanding the nation's international contributions toward the establishment of a sustainable society.
We interviewed Dr, Wijarn Simachaya, the Director-General of the Pollution Control Department, Thai Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and Dr. Qwanruedee Chotichanathawewong, Director of the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Center, National Research Council of Thailand.
―Can you explain the current status of waste processing in Thailand?＜Dr, Wijarn Simachaya＞ Thailand generates 27 million tons of waste each year, or approx. 70,000 tons per day, but recycles just 19 percent of it for effective use. Over 50% of total waste is left abandoned, piled up outside. Such waste releases gas, triggering fires and water pollution. Alarm has been raised about the inclusion of dangerous and hazardous waste. Improving waste processing is one of the current government's urgent challenges.
The Pollution Control Department of Thailand's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment works with the Interior Ministry to draw up policies and enforce regulations, although actual waste management is the responsibility of local governments. Thailand has approx. 7,000 local governments. Compared to Japanese counterparts, Thailand's local governments are smaller and lack funding, technology and implementation structures.
The central and local governments are implementing a wide range of initiatives, while promoting the 3R policy of 'reducing, reusing and recycling.' More specifically, Thai schools run the 'Garbage Bank' program to collect waste, sell waste that can be recycled and pass the revenue back to the schools. The goal of the 3R policy is to reduce the nation's total waste volume by 5%, but the country still faces a mountain of issues.
Thailand generates 1.1 kilograms of waste per capita per day. However, people are not aware of the gravity of the situation. With the mentality of 'not in my backyard,' they perceive waste processing facilities negatively and refuse to accept their construction in their neighborhood. Tokyo has numerous waste incineration facilities, but Thailand has just three across the nation. We are very interested to see the reality of waste processing in various parts of Japan.
― What aspect of Japan's waste processing program has left the biggest impression?
＜Dr. Qwanruedee Chotichanathawewong＞Thai people believe it is the government's responsibility to pick up rubbish they toss out, and are not prepared to pay for the service. Japan is different. In a small Japanese town, I saw local people pay 40 yen for ten plastic garbage bags, and throw away their food waste in the bags.
The Japanese practice of sorting waste into categories before collection is an excellent idea. All waste can be appropriately processed if every person at home or supermarket can perfectly sort resource waste with strong awareness. Thailand must start from sorting household waste, ensuring that all the citizens become aware of their responsibility.
I was particularly impressed by the kitchen waste composting project called the Rainbow Plan in Nagai City, Yamagata Prefecture. People take food waste and scraps, including organic matters, to a local garbage station, which compost collected food waste. Finished compost is distributed to local farms, which ship their produce, made with the organic compost, with a Rainbow Plan sticker. Some vegetables produced under the program are supplied to local schools for school lunches. It is a fantastic program. I learned that this efficient and excellent system has been made possible because of local residents' high awareness and spirit of mutual cooperation.
I was also surprised to see that environmental education is incorporated into elementary school classes. In Japan, education about garbage sorting is part of formal school curriculum. I saw many children arriving in couches at the waste disposal facility in Ome City, Tokyo, to receive information from experts who know the site very well. In Thailand, waste disposal sites are not considered to be a place suitable for children. Sending children to such a site on a school excursion is unthinkable. I see the benefit of starting with school education in raising public awareness on waste disposal.
― What did you feel about this inspection tour?
＜Dr, Wijarn Simachaya＞The Rainbow Plan, promoted by the City of Nagai, involved some 5,000 local households carefully sorting their waste into categories and helping the composting and recycling of waste for the good of local communities. I am hoping to apply what I have learned in Nagai City to our agricultural nation. Other Japanese regions seem to also have excellent waste collection systems. The Japanese system is functioning efficiently, carefully sorting waste into combustible waste, non-combustible waste, large waste and resource waste, and sending each of them to various processing routes before final disposal. The Town of Nogi in Tochigi Prefecture was composting not only food scraps but also green garden waste.
I also saw a waste-to-energy operation in the Mobara district of Utsunomiya City, Tochigi Prefecture, and biomass power generation recycling food waste at the Jonanjima Park in Ota Ward, Tokyo. In Nasushiobara, Tochigi Prefecture, the former site of final waste disposal is used as a solar energy farm. These operations have shown me how Japanese people transcend their social roles in promoting waste bulk reduction, recycling as well as appropriate management and effective use of waste disposal sites. I would like to make best use of what I have learned from these experiences in Japan, and explore how people in Thailand could work together to promote initiatives for improving our living environment, and what we could do to transform people's mentality to this end. The Japanese approach may not necessarily apply directly to Thailand. Yet, with numerous inspirations gained, we will bring our knowledge together to achieve the goal. I am hoping to set up a joint initiative with the SPF and the people of Japan for this cause. In this sense, I am looking forward to exchanging even deeper discussions with Japanese experts and those involved in waste management at a seminar, due to be held later today.
＜Dr. Qwanruedee Chotichanathawewong＞Japan has undergone various experiences concerning waste, including industrial waste and household waste. Thailand has only pursued technological advancement in the course of strong economic growth, and did not have room to consider the environment. It is now paying the price in the form of waste issues. I have been told that Japan followed a similar path during its years of post-war economic growth. Today, Japan has built various waste processing systems, delivering positive outcomes across the nation.
I am thankful to have been given this valuable opportunity to see outstanding Japanese systems first-hand and talk with those involved. Waste can be turned into compost, energy and resources. Organic compost can be used for farming vegetables, which are then served at Japanese households and inject vitality to Japanese children. The resulting food waste is then sent back to produce compost. Looking at these systems, I realize that Japan is truly working on building a recycling-oriented society that is kind to both people and the environment.
See here for the summary of the closed International seminar inviting Thailand's administrative officials.