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Surge in plastic waste frustrates Thai activist

Surge in plastic waste frustrates Thai activist

It as 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.

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

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

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

I worry that after the Covid-19 [pandemic], 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 per cent 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.

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 per cent in volume last month, as more people rely on home deliveries, data from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration shows.

“There are both pros and cons of 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 make 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, said Thon.

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