Plastic surge in virus lockdown frustrates Thai activist

BANGKOK (Reuters) – It has been months since Thailand’s former national windsurfer and environmentalist Amara Wichithong last paddled her stand-up board and collected trash from a creek connecting the residential area where she lives to the sea.

A volunteer collects rubbish near Pattaya beach at Chonburi, Thailand May 12, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

The 57-year old runs a windsurfing shop in the famed seaside resort town of Pattaya and, with a passion for protecting the environment, has become somewhat of a local green hero.

For years, Amara and her team of volunteers have picked out plastic trash from local waters and mangrove forests to prevent it from ending up in the ocean. But their work has been halted since March amid restrictions to contain the coronavirus.

Amara is worried a spike in plastic waste from more food and goods delivery as people stay at home will make matters worse.

“I worry that after the COVID-19, I would imagine that the sea will be filled with trash,” Amara said.

The amount of plastic waste generated during the coronavirus lockdown has surged by 15% in Thailand, local media reported, citing the Pollution Control Department.

Thailand, among the world’s top five countries choking the oceans with plastic, has sought to clamp down on single-use plastic bags this year.


Amara said she had been collecting trash more “seriously” over the past 20 years, having started picking up rubbish at just 10 years of age.

“The (trash) situation got worse in the past five years, where we see turtles and marine animals dying ashore. I felt like I had to do something about this,” she said.

In addition to picking up trash from local waters, Amara and her team have also installed a net made from fishermen’s net scrap in the creek to prevent waste from flowing into the sea while leaving gaping holes for fish to swim through.

    The trash they collect are then sorted and donated to garbage collectors for sale and recycling.

While a slowdown in economic activity amid the virus has helped curb pollution, experts worry the effects will be short-lived and offset by some fallout from the strict lockdowns.

Bangkok’s plastic waste has soared 62% in volume in April, as more people rely on home deliveries, according to data from Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

“There are both pros and cons from the new normal. The pro is that people are aware of how great nature is without trash, we have more sightings of rare marine animals which makes them cherish nature more,” marine biology expert Thon Thamrongnawasawat said.

The other new normal is the plastic waste from food deliveries that “will continue to and definitely increase in amount” even after the outbreak is over, the expert added.

Reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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