In June this year, a pilot whale was found fighting for its life in a Thai canal near the Malaysian border, unable to breathe or swim. Despite the valiant efforts of veterinarians, the whale died five days later and a necropsy revealed it had more than seven kilogrammes of plastic in its stomach.
The problem of plastic waste is going from bad to deadly, fast. According to the US-based non-profit environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam dump more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the world combined. In Asia, where waste management programmes are hit or miss, plastic waste ends up clogging waterways, harming fish and wildlife habitats. Additionally, much of the plastic waste is incinerated, releasing toxic fumes that pollute the environment.
However, there might be a silver lining yet. In July this year, Thailand will be implementing a series of bans to curb environmental damage to the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Indonesia, China, Taiwan and Vietnam are levying taxes on single-use plastic bags and bottles, while forward-thinking municipalities like Kovalam – located south of Thiruvananthapuram – are examining initiatives to cut plastic waste.
Over in Cambodia, a ground-up initiative was launched in 2016. Refill Not Landfill is a consortium of Siem Reap businesses and residents committed to reducing the use of single-use plastic water bottles. According to the general manager of luxury hotel Jaya House River, Christian de Boer, who helped launch the project, visitors to Cambodia consume up to two litres of water daily and have the potential to use more than 355,000 disposable plastic bottles per day. This adds up to 130 million plastic bottles per year – enough to fill 26 Olympic-size swimming pools to the brim. This is why he’s determined to do something about the urgent issue.
Refill Not Landfill has grown exponentially since its inception. This robust network of hotels, restaurants and boutiques provide tourists with reusable aluminium water canteens that can be replenished at free, purified refill stations around town. Refill Not Landfill operates across Cambodia, including Phnom Penh and along the coast in Sihanoukville and Kep, and its strategy is now spreading to neighbouring countries.
In Laos, the Refill Initiative – led by the tourism authority of Luang Prabang province – has installed over 40 refill stations throughout the city. Additionally, hotels like Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao and the Amantaka have started substituting plastic bottles for reusable glass.
One hotel in the region that has gone practically plastic-free is Akyra Manor in Chiang Mai: glass water bottles in rooms, metal straws in all dining outlets and all in-room amenities plastic-free and packaged in paper, such as toothbrushes made from non-GMO corn starch. Also in Chiang Mai, local musicians and student activists are championing the Last Straw campaign, which aims to eliminate plastic straws.
Other grassroots initiatives include Bye Bye Plastic in Bali, which was started by two impassioned teens to thwart plastic consumption on the Island of the Gods.
After Refill Not Landfill Cambodia’s success, de Boer is working to get similar programmes underway in Yangon and Vietnam. “This simple and effective initiative has grown tremendously,” de Boer says. “Natural beauty is part of our destination’s appeal. It’s up to us to protect it.”
Each year, millions of flip-flops wash up ashore around the globe and one German artist has had enough. Liina Klauss recently worked with local communities in Bali to collect discarded flip-flops from the beaches on the island’s west coast and constructed a show- stopping structure that now sits at the entrance of Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak. Klauss wanted to drive home the point that the problem of plastic waste is something that all of us contribute to, and it’s up to us to make a positive change. The art piece – which was constructed with more than 5,000 plastic flip-flops and strung together with a special frame created from sustainably harvested bamboo – will be available to view till the end of this year.
From trash to trend
Update your wardrobe with stylish recycled plastic bottles
Matt & Nat – Smart leather handbags lined with soft fabric made from 100% recycled plastic.
Finch – Featuring cool Pop Art prints, Finch’s bikinis and maillots are made from Repreve, a yarn made from recycled plastic bottles.
Riz Board Shorts – The brand’s trunks are cut from recycled plastic yearn and feature fun, lively prints.
This article was originally published in the July 2018 issue of Silkwinds magazine.