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Currently approximately 9 million tons of plastic enter the world's oceans annually. This is a major transboundary problem on a global that threatens marine wildlife, coastal ecologies, human health and livelihoods. Our concern in this paper is with the environmental governance of marine plastic pollution that emanates from Thailand, the sixth biggest contributor globally. By zooming in on land-based polluters in Thailand, we highlight both the systemic nature of the marine plastic problem and the relative impunity with which drivers of transboundary environmental harm function at all levels of governance. Drawing from 19 interviews conducted with actors from the public, private and non-profit sectors, we examine three stages of the problem: production , consumption and waste management. We found that three major barriers prevent Thailand's government, private sector and citizens from engaging in the sort collective action needed to reduce marine plastic pollution. They are: (i) insufficient incentives to enact political change; (ii) scalar disconnects in waste management; and (iii) inadequate public and private sector ownership over plastic waste reduction. As the state alone cannot change corporate and consumer behaviour, we argue that multi-stakeholder efforts across organisational scales of governance and administrative boundaries are needed to address the barriers.
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The geopolitical economy of Thailands marine plastic
pollution crisis
Danny Marks,
*
Michelle Ann Miller
and Sujitra Vassanadumrongdee
*
Department of Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong, 83 Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Email: danny.marks@cityu.edu.hk.
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, 119260, Singapore.
Email: arimam@nus.edu.sg.
Environmental Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University, 2 Phayathai Road, Bangkok, 10330, Thailand.
Email: sujitra20@gmail.com.
Abstract: Currently approximately 9 million tons of plastic enter the worlds oceans annually. This is a major
transboundary problem on a global scale that threatens marine wildlife, coastal ecologies, human health and
livelihoods. Our concern in this paper is with the environmental governance of marine plastic pollution that
emanates from Thailand, the sixth biggest contributor globally. By zooming in on land-based polluters in
Thailand, we highlight both the systemic nature of the marine plastic problem and the relative impunity with
which drivers of transboundary environmental harm function at all levels of governance. Drawing from 19 inter-
views conducted with actors from the public, private and non-prot sectors, we examine three stages of the
problem: production, consumption and waste management. We found that three major barriers prevent
Thailands government, private sector and citizens from engaging in the sort collective action needed to reduce
marine plastic pollution. They are: (i) insufcient incentives to enact political change; (ii) scalar disconnects in
waste management; and (iii) inadequate public and private sector ownership over plastic waste reduction. As
the state alone cannot change corporate and consumer behaviour, we argue that multi-stakeholder efforts across
organisational scales of governance and administrative boundaries are needed to address the barriers.
Keywords: marine litter, plastics production, Thai environmental governance, Thailand marine
plastic pollution, transboundary commons, waste mismanagement
In June 2018, about 80 plastic bags weighing
8 kg were found inside the stomach of a
beached pilot whale in southern Thailand.
Although veterinarians tried to save it, the plas-
tic had torn the whales stomach and it died a
few days later (Resnick-Ault, 2018). The death
of the whale serves as a stark reminder of a
growing transboundary environmental problem:
the deleterious impacts of plastic debris on the
health of the worlds marine ecosystems.
Accounting for 6080% of all marine litter,
plastic pollution takes either the form of user-
end products (plastic bags, bottles and packag-
ing) or industry raw materials (resin, granules
and pellets) (Todd et al., 2010; Pawar et al.,
2016). While it is not possible to know exactly
how much plastic pollution reaches the sea
annually, it is currently estimated that over eight
million tons of plastic litter are dumped, care-
lessly handled or accidentally released at an
estimated cost to the global economy of US
$2.5 trillion per year (Jambeck et al., 2015;
Beaumont et al., 2019). More than 80% of
the worlds ocean plastic pollution originates
in Asia (Faulder, 2018), where increasingly
afuent urbanising societies are the fastest
growing consumers of plastic worldwide
(Thevenon et al., 2014). In Thailand alone,
plastic usage has increased by 78% annually
(Apinanwattanakul, 2018), with individual
consumption (on average eight bags per day)
generating around 200 billion bags each year
(Styllis, 2018).
This is a major transboundary problem on a
global scale that seriously threatens marine
wildlife, coastal ecologies, human health and
livelihoods. Some 267 species of marine ani-
mals have been adversely impacted by plastic
debris through entanglement or ingestion,
although this number will invariably increase as
smaller species are studied (Moore, 2008: 131).
Humans who have consumed plastic by eating
Asia Pacic Viewpoint Vol. 61, No. 2, 2020
ISSN 1360-7456, pp266282
© 2020 Victoria University of Wellington and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd doi:10.1111/apv.12255
marine animals have experienced increased
health problems such as cancer and infertility
(Sharma and Chatterjee, 2017). Garbage pat-
ches composed of micro-plastic particles,
chemical slurry and other human-made debris
attract invasive alien species such as bacteria,
algae, diatoms and barnacles, which absorb
polychlorinated biphenyls from ingested plastics
that dramatically reduce endemic marine biodi-
versity (Derraik, 2002). While 20% of plastic
waste is generated by ocean shing, aquacul-
ture and nautical missions, the great majority of
plastic litter, around 80%, is land-based (Clapp,
2012). Plastic debris makes its way to the ocean
through rivers, drainage systems, storm runoff,
industrial processes, beach visitors, ineffective
waste management and illegal dumping.
In this article, we analyse the terrestrial origins
of Thailands contributions to plastic marine pollu-
tion as a problem of governing the transboundary
environmental commons. Unlike the allied
concepts of global commons and transnational
commons, which only denote the spatial arrange-
ments that govern common pool resources across
international borders, transboundary commons
refer to the governance of shared resources
across administrative boundaries within as well
as between nation-states (Miller, 2019). Critical
social science engagement with the trans-
boundary dimensions of common property in Asia
has directed attention to questions of environ-
mental (in)justice in communal resource claims
(Yanagisawa, 2015; Galappaththi and Berkes,
2015; Green et al., 2017) and to the enclosure of
common pool resources for their sustainable
commodication or conservation (Hirsch, 2000;
Tubtim and Hirsch, 2004; Yong, 2013). In
resource-rich but land-scarce Southeast Asia,
transboundary environmental commons are
increasingly being shaped and redened by mar-
ket forces that work through an extraordinary
heterogeneity of private-public, private-societal
and co-governance partnerships across mixed
property regimes (Miller et al., 2020). The con-
cept of a transboundary commons thus affords
consideration of the diverse corporate, state and
societal actors who function at multiple
organisational scales of environmental gover-
nance, and whose role in perpetuating the
unfolding tragedy(Hardin, 1968) of pollution of
the oceanic commons has thus far been largely
ignored or overlooked. While social science
scholarship has endeavoured to understand the
different levels at which transboundary commons
might be enacted to provide collective redress
for the marine plastic problem (e.g. via trans-
boundary publics that promote ethical forms of
consumerism), questions of sharing and conserv-
ing common pool resources remain predomi-
nantly xed at the supranational or regional
scale of governance (Hirsch, 2016).
We treat transboundary commons as a func-
tion of governance in dealing with the cumula-
tive environmental threat of marine plastic
pollution. Our focus is on the land-based pro-
duction of marine plastic pollution in Thailand
because of its role as the fth biggest producer of
marine plastic globally and the second largest in
terms of individual contributions (Ocean Conser-
vancy and McKinsey Centre for Business and the
Environment, 2015). By zooming in on land-
based polluters in Thailand, we aim to highlight
both the systemic nature of the marine plastic
problem and the relative impunity with which
drivers of transboundary environmental harm
function at all levels of governance. This is
important because land-based drivers of oceanic
pollution either tend to be studied in aggregate
national terms (such as Thailands total contribu-
tion to marine plastic debris) or overlooked
entirely in international environmental law.
We argue that it is important to take such a
multi-scalar, multi-sector view of marine plastic
pollution for at least three reasons. First, as
noted, plastics are discharged into the ocean
via diverse pathways that can be traced back to
land-based anthropogenic activities. Second,
multi-level and multi-sited communal activities
are needed to provide redress for this problem
because the higher the organisational scale of
environmental governance, the more likely it is
that overlapping spheres of authority will render
resource rights and responsibilities ambiguous
and therefore unenforceable (Perrings, 2012;
Wiering and Verwijmeren, 2012). Both interna-
tional legislation (e.g. the 1972 Convention on
the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping
Wastes and Other Matter) and transnational
treaties among blocs of nation-states have been
critiqued for their failure to enforce compliance
with global environmental standards. In the
absence of any international plastics treaty with
legally binding targets and timelines (Borrelle
et al., 2017), major perpetrators of plastic
© 2020 Victoria University of Wellington and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd 267
Thailands marine plastic pollution crisis
marine pollution frequently evade punitive
action.
Third, in the specic regional context of ASEAN
(Association of Southeast Asian Nations), we
argue that political sensitivity among post-colonial
nation-states about outside interference necessi-
tates a multi-layered approach to dealing with
marine plastic pollution that does not place the
sole onus of responsibility on individual countries.
Even Thailand, which prides itself on never hav-
ing experienced European colonisation in the
same way as its neighbours, is deeply entrenched
in ASEANs geopolitical culture of engaged non-
indifferenceto environmental cooperation
(Pelling, 2011: 85). As such, the success of trans-
boundary environmental commons in mitigating
plastic marine pollution will likely hinge on eco-
nomic strategies such as green growth partner-
ships that highlight collective benets while
actively minimising geopolitical tensions.
In what follows, we critically examine why
land-based strategies for mitigating marine plas-
tic pollution are essential for improving trans-
boundary governance of the oceanic commons.
We begin by foregrounding transboundary
issues in governing global plastic marine pollu-
tion. Thailands governance structure of plastic
pollution control is then evaluated. Drawing
from 19 primary source interviews conducted in
August 2018 with actors from the public, pri-
vate and NGO sectors, we examine three con-
secutive stages of the plastic ocean pollution
problem: production, consumption and waste
management. We conclude by suggesting ave-
nues forward to formulate more effective and
inclusive transboundary governance strategies
to reduce marine plastic pollution in the oce-
anic commons of Southeast Asia.
Transboundary governance of a global
environmental problem
In examining the governance of plastic marine
pollution, we are concerned with geographies of
human environmental practice rather than with
the transboundary ow of plastic debris itself.
We do recognise, however, that the biophysi-
cal properties of anthropogenic waste shape
their spatialities of governance. This distinction
between humans and their waste is important
because the concept of governance places the
onus of responsibility on human agency rather
than on non-human or non-living actants. This
approach departs from actor-network inspired
scholarship (Latour, 2005) that ascribes a trans-
gressiveagency (Beery, 2016) to non-living
actants such as plastic products that transform
from passive entities into transboundary pollut-
ants when they kill endemic species and destroy
ecosystem functions (Mason, 2008).
As a function of transboundary governance,
plastic marine pollution is a human-generated
problem that cuts across multiple spheres of
competing interests. We dene transboundary
environmental governance as the collective of
state, societal and private sector decision-mak-
ing, norms and practices that shape the formal
and informal (re)distribution of environmental
costs and benets across territories and time-
frames (Miller, 2019). Our emphasis on
networked environmental collectives across
bordered spheres of human interest is tied to
our understanding of the concept of trans-
boundary commons. As political spaces for
governing common pool resources across
administrative borders within and between
countries, transboundary commons require geo-
graphically dispersed communities of environ-
mental practice who either come together to
protect a particular environmental good or to
respond to a cross-border environmental threat
or crisis.
The convergence of common interests
across borders and sectoral boundaries is cru-
cial in establishing transboundary commons
because the attainment of environmental
security necessitates collective recognition of
the interconnectedness of securities(Dalby,
1992: 516). The efcacy of governance
responses to plastic marine pollution thus
requires, as a starting point, consensus among
key stakeholders that their combined activities
constitute ecologically unsustainable behav-
iours that erode environmental security by
creating a common problem (Ansari et al.,
2013). If people do not see their lives and
livelihoods as being intertwined in the face of
an emerging threat or crisis and identify their
own behaviours as contributing to that prob-
lem, then they will not be incentivised to
change their environmental behaviours and
adopt more sustainable modes of production,
consumption and waste management.
268 © 2020 Victoria University of Wellington and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
D. Marks et al.
Such consensus about the underlying causali-
ties, drivers and remedies for plastic marine pol-
lution is currently lacking at all organisational
levels of environmental governance. At the
international level, the introduction in 1982 of
the United Nations Convention on the Law of
the Sea (UNCLOS) aimed to establish a legal
framework to protect and preserve the marine
environment, but it does not sufciently address
the key sources, types, and entry points of
marine pollution. Nor does UNCLOS or any
other international legislation properly acknowl-
edge the terrestrial origins of the vast majority of
plastic waste (Landon-Lane, 2018). In the
absence of legally binding mechanisms to
reduce global plastic production and consump-
tion and increase recycling among land-based
governance systems, international institutions
such as UNCLOS and the non-binding Hono-
lulu Strategy merely act as dialogue forums
(Dauvergne, 2018). Ethical consumer norms
and cultures are neither strong nor comprehen-
sive enough in their current form to offset these
decits in international law (Dauvergne, 2018;
Landon-Lane, 2018). Moreover, the plastic
industry has been effective in pushing back
against policies that seek to curb plastic con-
sumption (Clapp and Swanston, 2009) by
investing in marketing strategies aimed at con-
vincing consumers to take responsibility for
their own waste (Fuhr and Patton, 2019). The
governance of plastic pollution is thus fragmen-
ted both horizontally between sectors and
product lines as well as vertically, with loop-
holes and limited implementation at all
organisational levels (Dauvergne, 2018).
At the supranational or regional level of gov-
ernance among blocs of nation-states, there has
been some success in coordinating trans-
boundary governance efforts, but not in Asia.
The European Parliament voted in October
2018 to ban single-use plastics (e.g. plastic bags
and bottles) by 2021 (Yeginsu, 2018). Carib-
bean countries have also implemented a
Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter Manage-
ment (Vince and Hardesty, 2018). Across Asia,
however, collective action remains limited. In
Southeast Asia, home to four of the worlds
worst six plastic polluting countries Thailand,
Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam
(Jambeck et al., 2015) the transboundary ter-
restrial dimensions of plastic marine pollution
warrant a region-wide response. ASEAN coun-
tries agreed in January 2019 to the Bangkok
Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in the
ASEAN Region, which will serve as a guide to
tackle plastic pollution. Yet this document lacks
legally binding responsibilities and concrete
action plans (Gong, 2019). Its premise on vol-
untary compliance reects the ASEAN Way,
which is grounded in non-interference in the
sovereign affairs of ASEAN member countries
(Yukawa, 2018).
Given these decits at the international level
and regional levels, there is a need to better
understand how national and sub-national pro-
cesses connect with higher organisational scales
of governance and interact across sectors of
expertise. Specically, more domestic political
economy analyses are required to reveal under-
lying interests, incentives and institutions that
enable or frustrate change(DFID, 2009: 1).
Such political economy studies could help to
identify opportunities for policy reform, existing
barriers, and ways of addressing obstacles to the
adoption of more sustainable ecological behav-
iours. For instance, at an Inter-Parliamentary
Union hearing to plan for the 2017 Ocean Con-
ference, several country representatives stated
that they want to address the problem of marine
plastic pollution within their borders, but they
lacked enforceable legislation and supporting
infrastructures to build compliance with sustain-
ability measures across scales and sectors of
governance (Borrelle et al., 2017).
Thailands contribution to transboundary
plastic pollution
Production and consumption
Thailands culture of plastic consumption has
developed over half a century. In the 1950s,
zero micro-plastics were detected in sediment
core collected from the Gulf of Thailand,
suggesting that the 1960s marked the beginning
of the nation-wide transition to plastic con-
sumption (Matsuguma et al., 2017). The scale of
plastic consumption in Thailand rapidly
increased from 1970s and 1980s alongside the
worldwide adoption of single-use plastic bags
(Rivers et al., 2017). Previously, Thais had used
banana leaves, bamboo, earthenware pots and
© 2020 Victoria University of Wellington and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd 269
Thailands marine plastic pollution crisis
tin cans for packaging. By 2017, 41% of plastic
products used in Thailand were for packaging
(see Fig. 1) (Pollution Control Department
(PCD), 2019). As the head of a local NGO
observed, Natural containers have been rep-
laced by plastic containers(11).
When Thailands plastic industry began to
develop in the 1960s, it relied on imported
resin. By the late 1970s, however, Thailands
petrochemical industry was producing its own
plastic resin. In 1996, the country achieved full-
integration of plastic production. Around 70%
of Thailands plastic resin production serves the
domestic market while the rest is exported,
mainly to other Asian countries (Plastic Industry
Club, 2009). Thailands petrochemical sector is
currently the second largest in Southeast Asia
and sixteenth in the world (Thailand Investment
Review, 2017), with the plastic industry com-
prising 7% of the countrys gross domestic prod-
uct. As a board member of Thailands biggest
plastic company, PTT Global Chemical Public
Company Limited (PTTGC), proclaimed: We
are one of the top biggest exporters of plastic in
the worldThere are 200,000 workers in the
plastic industry and it supports one million peo-
ple(4).
The growth of Thailands plastic industry has
fuelled domestic consumption. By 2015,
according to the Plastic Waste Management
Plan 20172021, Thailand was producing 2.33
million tons of plastic for domestic usage annu-
ally (PCD, 2017). With an average individual
consumption rate of 40 kg per year, Thailand is
the highest per capita plastic consumer in Asia
(Corben, 2017). Nationwide, retail stores and
convenience stores each consume 30% of plas-
tic bags, while open market vendors use the
remaining 40% (5). Retailers prefer plastic bags
because of their low cost: one kilogram of plas-
tic bags is only 120 baht (US$3.65) (8). To mini-
mise expenditure, producers make plastic bags
using thin resin, necessitating two bags for
heavier items (10). Little wonder, then, that plas-
tic has become woven into the social fabric of
Thai society. As one Thammasat University Pro-
fessor explained, For the past 20-30 years, any-
thing plastic has become our culture or way of
life(10). A Siam Cement Group senior ofcial
added that street food is part of our lifestyle
and now street food needs plastic(13).
Waste management
Although Japan is a high-producing plastic
country, its successful waste management sys-
tem has kept plastic discharge into marine envi-
ronments relatively low (Hornyak, 2017). By
contrast 80% of Thailands marine plastic pollu-
tion is linked to land-based waste that is inef-
ciently managed (8, 16). According to the PCD,
which is under the Ministry of Natural
Resources and Environment (MONRE), in 2016
some 26% of 1.3 million tons of garbage gener-
ated by Thailands 23 coastal provinces washed
into the ocean (Thai PBS, 2018). A 2017 study
by Thailands Department of Coastal and
Marine Resources disaggregated this land-based
marine plastic debris into contents comprising
24% plastic bags, 20% plastic bottles, 18%
glass bottles, 12% polystyrene foam, 10% plas-
tic wraps, 6% plastic caps, 5% plastic straws
and 5% cigarette butts (Department of Coastal
and Marine Resources, 2017).
A nationwide culture of littering underscores
this problem. Whilst illegal, waste disposal in or
around drainage canals, rivers and the ocean
remains commonplace (1, 4, 11). An ofcial of
Rangsit Municipality near Bangkok admitted
that in her city, some people lack awareness
and throw away plastic bags into waterways
(15). Additionally, an unknown number of ships
secretly dump their waste into the ocean (11).
One interviewee blamed poor law enforcement,
claiming that police are not strict about
littering. Ofcers are a bit timid to confront
those who litter(4). Although many tourists lit-
ter on beaches, police ofcers are said to be
Figure 1. Breakdown of plastic products used in Thailand
in 2017 (Pollution Control Department, 2019) [Colour gure
can be viewed at wileyonlinelibrary.com]
270 © 2020 Victoria University of Wellington and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
D. Marks et al.
reluctant to issue nes because of their impor-
tance to the national economy (5, 8, 11). As a
local NGO ofcial explained, Convenience is a
priority to service tourists(11).
There is currently no civic culture to support
the sorting and cleaning of plastic waste. The
head of the Thai Plastic Club lamented that if
Thais were taught properly like the Germans and
Japanese, they would separate and clean their
waste(9). The head of Chulalongkorn Univer-
sitys Zero Waste programme agreed that waste
separation should be the duty of everybody, not
only the local government. The perception is not
yet there(12). Condominium management sys-
tems exacerbate this problem by not providing
recycling stations to separate different items
(9, 10). Most used plastic packaging is contami-
nated by food remnants, making it too time-
consuming and costly for waste pickers to invest
in cleaning and recycling (17). Consequently,
the overwhelming majority of plastic packaging
is directly sent to waste sites; in 2017 only 25%
of Thailands plastic waste was recycled (PCD,
2018; see also Rujivanarom, 2018b).
At the community and household scales, inad-
equate waste management infrastructure fuels
the plastic pollution problem. Rubbish bins are
often too small, uncovered and infrequently col-
lected. In oods and heavy rain, litter spills out
of waste bags and enters waterways (10, 14). For
example, a survey of Maka Sarakham Municipal-
ity in northeast Thailand revealed that 65% of
garbage bins constituted uncovered baskets
(Yukalang et al., 2017a, 2017b). This representa-
tive example of many local governments in
Thailand(Yukalang et al., 2017a, 2017b: 1)
highlights the way in which faulty or inadequate
rubbish bins severely impede effective waste
management. Local governments tend not to
replace stolen curb-side rubbish bins or if resi-
dents complain that they are unsightly and
smelly. As a result, black plastic waste bags with-
out bins are frequently left on curbs for dump
trucks to collect, which leak into open drains,
canals and rivers when waste pickers or animals
tear them apart or they overow (Yukalang et al.,
2017a, 2017b). After dump truck workers collect
waste from residential areas, informal sector
waste pickers only extract valuable products that
they can sell to recycling companies, such as
high-quality plastic products. As a result, items
like single-use plastic bags and other low-value
items such as straws and cups are not typically
collected by waste pickers (17). In recent years,
Thailand has also been importing plastic waste,
which is generally sent to recycling factories or
incinerators for conversion into energy. While
most of Thailands plastic waste imports are
processed by recycling factories, there is substan-
tial leftover residue that contributes to the coun-
trys marine plastic pollution (4). Moreover, since
January 2018, when China stopped importing
plastic waste as part of its National Swordpol-
icy, Thailand, like other countries in East and
Southeast Asia, struggled to expand its domestic
capacity to keep pace with surging waste imports
that China once absorbed (Chantanusornsiri,
2018). In 2018 alone, Thailand received
481 000 tons of plastic waste imports, compared
with 70 000 tons in 2016 (Macan-Markar, 2019).
With Thailands waste disposal facilities criti-
cally unprepared to deal with burgeoning vol-
umes of plastic scrap, it has been estimated that
around 70% of the countrys waste is mis-
managed (5). In 2018, the PCD estimated that
of 27.8 million tons of solid waste generated,
39% was properly disposed, 34% utilised (for
recycling, producing animal feed and fertiliser),
and 27% improperly disposed, including via
open dumping (PCD, 2019). As of 2018,
Thailand had 2764 operating waste disposal
sites, of which 647 were properly implemented
and 2117 were deemed faulty (PCD, 2019).
According to the head of an international NGO
working on marine plastics, most landlls
[in Thailand] are insecure and very simple
dump sites. Since they are not well-managed,
waste will leak into canals and onto beaches
(14). For example, in 2017, when Southern
Thailand experienced heavy ooding, a lot of
plastic debris washed into the sea (1). Yet even
under normal weather conditions, there is no
government agency, private company or civil
society organisation actively invested in
cleaning the countrys waterways to prevent
debris from oozing into the ocean (1).
Public awareness of a more-than-national
problem
Public awareness of Thailands terrestrial contri-
butions to marine plastic pollution rose to the
political fore in 2011 in the aftermath of major
oods (Marks, 2015). It was during this period
© 2020 Victoria University of Wellington and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd 271
Thailands marine plastic pollution crisis
that Thai citizens found many plastic bags in
our drainage systems(10). Additionally, 2011
marked the entry of plastic into the United
Nations General Assembly agenda (2). Aware-
ness of the transboundary nature of Thailands
marine plastic problem was further heightened
by the publication of two reports (Jambeck
et al., 2015; Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey
Centre for Business and the Environment, 2015)
which ranked Thailand among the worlds
worst ocean polluters. Then in 2017, a series of
garbage islands, measuring over a kilometre in
diameter, were discovered off the coast of
southern Thailand oating toward major tourist
resorts (Satyaem, 2017). Adding to this negative
publicity, the global media spotlight in 2018 on
the death of a pilot whale by plastic ingestion in
Songkhla province prompted Thai Prime Minis-
ter Prayuth Chan-O-Cha to declare waste man-
agement a national priority and appeal to Thai
citizens to lead more eco-friendly lifestyles
(Styllis, 2018). As a National Reform Committee
member noted, compared to a few years ago,
there is more awareness of this issue [marine
plastic pollution]. The whale story had a big
impact. Also so did our high ranking as a
marine plastic polluting country(4).
Spurred by international and domestic pres-
sure in intergovernmental events such as the
Asia-Europe Meeting, Thailands military gov-
ernment, led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-
O-Cha, introduced a suite of programmes
aimed at reducing plastic marine pollution
(4, 5). In 2017, the government established the
National Reform Committee with 11 sub-com-
mittees, including one on plastic waste manage-
ment. The PCD also drafted the 5-year Plastic
Waste Management Plan (20172021), which,
in 2018, led to bans on cigarette smoking on
24 popular beaches (Reuters, 2018) and plastic
bag use and Styrofoam containers in national
marine parks (Bangkok Post, 2018). Also in
2018, the government worked in partnership
with retailers to eliminate an additional layer
of plastic covering plastic bottle caps
(Rujivanarom, 2018a). Following Chinas lead
in banning plastic waste imports, and unable to
cope with its own surplus, the Thai government
further pledged to ban plastic waste imports by
2021 (Zein, 2018). Finally, the aforementioned
Sub-Committee on Plastic Waste Management,
chaired by MONRE, developed a 20-year Plas-
tic Waste Action Plan in January 2018. This
sub-committee, comprising private sector repre-
sentatives but no environmental NGOs or civil
society actors, resolved to ban seven types of
single-use plastics. Three products, namely
micro beads, cap seal, oxo-degradable plastics
are scheduled to be banned in 2019 while Sty-
rofoam containers, thin plastic carrier bags (less
than 36 μm), plastic straws and plastic cups are
scheduled to cease production in 2022
(Wipatayotin, 2018). However, at the time of
writing, no detailed implementation of the plan
has been announced, raising questions about
the willingness and ability of policymakers to
meet these deadlines.
Government-led plastic reduction measures
tend to focus on voluntary lifestyle choices
rather than legal reforms. As part of its public
awareness campaign, MONRE directed the
Department of Environment Quality Promotion
(DEQP) to launch targeted programmes encour-
aging Thai citizens to use less plastic for their
collective health and well-being. DEQP ofcials
and their recruited volunteers have visited wet
markets to dissuade vendors from selling single-
use plastic bags by encouraging them to switch
to recyclable bags. They have also conducted
social media campaigns on Facebook and other
online platforms (6).
Several interviewees agreed, however, that it
is difcult to convert to recycled plastic when
the government initiatives are mostly voluntary
programmes, just campaigns(quote from 14;
also 2, 5, 11). A PCD ofcial conceded that in
the absence of enforceable environmental regu-
lations, supporting infrastructure and compli-
ance incentives, all of these campaigns are not
very effective(5). The head of a local NGO
complained that the governmentsplan pro-
motes reduction of plastic usage but has no
mandatory regulations. Thailand hasnt taken
any strong measuresThis is quite different
from other Asian countries, such as China and
Bangladesh(11). For these reasons, a number
of interviewees believed a tax on single-use
plastic consumption and institutional changes
to Thailands waste management system are
needed. The following sections will explore the
key obstacles and challenges to enacting these
more substantive reforms.
272 © 2020 Victoria University of Wellington and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
D. Marks et al.
Barriers to change
In this section, we examine three major barriers
that are currently preventing Thailands govern-
ment, private sector and citizens from collabo-
ratively engaging in activities necessary to
reduce marine plastic pollution. These barriers
can be broadly summarized as: (i) insufcient
incentives to enact political change; (ii) scalar
disconnects in waste management; and
(iii) inadequate civil society and private sector
ownership over plastic waste reduction. As the
Thai state cannot single-handedly change cor-
porate and consumer behaviours, norms and
cultures, we argue that multi-stakeholder efforts
across organizational scales of governance and
administrative boundaries are needed to com-
prehensively address each of the barriers
described in turn below.
Insufcient incentives to reduce single-use plas-
tic bag usage. As of December 2018, 27 coun-
tries worldwide had banned single-use plastic
bags, while 30 more countries charged fees for
plastic consumption (Anzilotti, 2018). While
our Thai interviewees did not advocate a total
ban on single-use plastics, many agreed that a
tax might discourage overuse. In the United
Kingdom, this policy has proven successful: the
concentration of plastic bags in surrounding
seas dropped signicantly after a levy of ve
pence (US$0.06) per bag was imposed in 2015
(BBC, 2018). A majority of Thais supported this
policy; a December 2017 opinion poll of 2000
Thais revealed that 60% of respondents were
willing to pay a plastic bag fee of one baht (US
$0.03) (ERTC Network, 2018). Based on this
poll, a team of researchers proposed to the gov-
ernment that it should charge consumers two to
three baht per single-use plastic bag (10).
Yet to date, Thailands military government
has resisted imposing a plastic tax, preferring
the less confrontational vehicle of civic volun-
teerism to reform Thailands consumer culture.
In part, this approach is designed to shore up
popular support for the pro-military conserva-
tive Palang Pracharat (Peoples State Power
Party), which prioritises economic growth over
environmental reforms. One senior member of
the National Reform Committee claimed that
the former Minister of Natural Resources and
Environment, General Surasak Karnjanarat, did
not move on this. Most sectors in Thailand use
plastic bagsIf this policy came into effect, he
would be scared of voters(7). Another member
of the committee concurred that the Thai gov-
ernment are afraid of the people, especially
now that we have Facebook. They can shout to
the government(4). Taking a longer-term view,
a Thammasat professor explained that not only
the military governments party, but all Thai
political parties have never had major environ-
mental policies in their campaigns(2).
The Thai government is also reluctant to
introduce a plastic tax because of its historically
close relationship with the powerful petrochem-
icals industry. This public-private partnership
involves a delicate balancing act between
protecting the industrys growth imperative on
the one hand, while responding to international
and domestic pressure to reduce Thailands
ecological footprint on the other hand. These
boundaries between government and big busi-
ness are frequently blurred and overlap. For
instance, Thailands biggest plastic producer,
PTT Global Chemical Public Company Limited
(PTTGC), is a state-owned enterprise (10). Since
assuming power in May 2014, the Prayuth gov-
ernment has enacted a number of policies and
made decisions which reected its close rela-
tionship with big business(Kongkirati and
Kanchoochat, 2018: 20).
The goal of this mutually benecial relation-
ship is to maintain the status quo by protecting
investments and expanding production while at
the same time minimizing transboundary ows
of environmental harm generated by petro-
chemical companies. We saw this at the global
scale in 2019 when the plastics industry
invested US$1 billion into an Alliance to End
Plastic Waste as a means of protecting its US
$20 billion investments in expanded production
for the next 5 years (Fuhr and Patton, 2019).
Similarly, at the national scale in Thailand, the
PTTGC has invested in sustainable business
strategies aimed at Making life more OK with
bioplasticsderived from biodegradable sugar-
cane, cassava and corn (GC News, 2019a).
PTTGC and other petrochemical companies
such as SCG Plastics Co. Ltd., Thailands sec-
ond biggest plastics producer, have promoted
their corporate social responsibility commit-
ments within an eco-industry framework.
PTTGC even claims to be involved in
© 2020 Victoria University of Wellington and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd 273
Thailands marine plastic pollution crisis
upcyclingocean plastic by removing and
recycling plastic before it can reach marine
environments and landlls (GC News, 2017).
Not only is this physically impossible because
PTTGCs production rates far exceed its contri-
butions to sustainable waste management, but
the concept of upcycling has attracted criticism
for delaying the inevitable path of plastic to the
sea rather than closing the loop on industrial
cycles (Phipps, 2018).
Plastic producers are powerful, with strong con-
nections and lobbyists who promote their interests
to governments. Chemical process industries are
adept at competitively benchmarking their corpo-
rate responsibility and environmental performance
against a wide variety of global sustainability indi-
ces that are not data-driven, but rather more
check-list oriented(Cobb et al., 2007). They win
public acceptance by incorporating sustainability
concepts into open access sustainability reports
that highlight their commitment to strategic sus-
tainability goals. Their lobbyists convince govern-
ment ofcials to protect industry interests in
closed door meetings that later translate into legis-
lative choices and policy programmes geared
toward waste management practices which pose
no real threat to plastic production. According to
several interviewees, lobbyists have convinced
Thai government authorities that a plastic tax
would be ineffective and too radical. In 2010, for
instance, when Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva
(20082011) sought to initiate a packaging tax,
he faced strong opposition from the Federation of
Thai Industries, which eventually blocked the pro-
posed tax (17; Kongrut, 2010). As one interviewee
pointed out, the government has to listen to
industries before it takes any action(2). Another
added that the petrochemicals industry is quite
inuential and connected to big politicians(14).
With political will lacking to legislate envi-
ronmental reforms, a broader cultural shift is
needed that goes well beyond project-based
solutions. Transboundary publics could help to
ll formal policy gaps by challenging ecologi-
cally unsustainable behaviours through ethical
forms of consumerism, sustainable packaging
innovations and investments in waste manage-
ment infrastructures. Although a plastic tax may
encourage a collective reduction in plastic con-
sumption, as occurred in the United Kingdom,
the current climate of Thai national politics
remains too bound up with plastic industry
interests. Moreover, such a tax should only con-
stitute part of a more comprehensive solution
that includes efforts to cultivate a shift in envi-
ronmental consciousness among Thai citizens.
Without such a cultural shift, Thailands
increasingly urban middle class consumers may
perceive the cost of plastic bags to be minimal
compared with the cost of items purchased
(Rucktum et al., 2016). A concurrent legislative
shift is also required to curb the excesses of the
plastic industry itself, without which, the pro-
duction of plastic will continue to transform into
anthropogenic waste that ows into the sea.
Scalar disconnects in waste management. As
described earlier in this article, waste manage-
ment reforms in Thailand are mired by institu-
tional, legal, economic and social challenges.
There are scalar disconnects between decision-
makers in Bangkok and bodies for implementing
waste management in cities, neighbourhoods
and households across urban and rural
Thailand. In the absence of political will to
reduce the pace and scale of plastic production,
these scalar disconnects become ever more pro-
nounced as government education campaigns
and corporate investments into recycling pro-
cesses are piecemeal and ineffective except on a
small scale.
At the community and household levels, the
national governmentspushtopromotewaste
separation is ineffective because most local gov-
ernments lack sufcient resources to invest into
infrastructure and community-level activities
around the reduction, reuse and recycling of plas-
tic litter. For example, the Bangkok Metropolitan
Administration allocates a far greater portion of its
annual budget to the collection and disposal of
general waste (six million baht or US$189,000
per year) than it does to recycling, reducing and
separating waste (50 000 baht, or US$1,572)
(Vassanadumrongdee, 2018). Households have
little motivation to separate their waste due to
the widespread perception that dump trucks sim-
ply consolidate collected waste (11), so they
believe that their efforts will be in vain
(Vassanadumrongdee and Kittipongvises, 2018).
This public perception is well founded as
Thailands waste management system is ill-
equipped to recycle plastic. Neither municipal
authorities nor private companies earn money
from recycling. Instead, they allow informal
274 © 2020 Victoria University of Wellington and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
D. Marks et al.
waste pickers to do the dirty work of sorting
high-value materials obtained from trucks, trans-
fer stations and dump sites, which they then sell
to recycling companies. Sometimes, local gov-
ernment ofcials illegally charge waste pickers
to obtain access to dump sites. As it is too costly
for waste pickers to clean extracted materials,
they only collect uncontaminated items and not
low-value plastic bags or straws (9, 11, 17).
The Department of Local Administration
under the Ministry of Interior (MoI) is ofcially
responsible for public waste collection and dis-
posal. Yet local governments have limited bud-
gets, inadequate institutional capacity and little
expertise in waste management (5). Unlike
Japan, the Thai government does not have a
coordinating national-level waste management
agency (5, 8, 10). A senior PCD ofcial
explained that some municipalities just a dig
hole and the waste goes everywhere. The sys-
tem is like a time bomb. We need to improve it
(5). Other municipal governments outsource
garbage collection and disposal to private com-
panies whose prots derive from the volume of
debris collected and not from the separation or
reduction of plastic waste (9). Several local poli-
ticians own these private waste management
companies (10, 14, 17). Although waste man-
agement ranks low on the Department of Local
Administrations list of priorities, it does not
want to cede any authority to the PCD that
would involve forfeiting a portion of its budget
(7). As one interviewee put it, it is about politics
between MoI and MONRE(7). A senior mem-
ber of the governments National Reform Com-
mittee on Marine Debris agreed that the overall
picture is quite bleak(7). Although several
interviewees and the PCD have called for a
new comprehensive waste management law,
the latter has been unable to make headway
due to its marginal position in government
(5, 11, 12, 14).
Limited public and private sector buy-in. In
the absence of enforceable legislation and puni-
tive mechanisms to compel more sustainable
plastic use, the Thai government has actively
encouraged voluntary civic and private sector
participation to tackle plastic marine pollution.
Yet neither the business sector nor civil society
organisations have been granted any real sense
of ownership over the process of reducing
plastic pollution. Communal activities around
scrap-to-craft recycling, clean city or neighbour-
hood awards programmes and public education
activities could provide participatory pathways
through which to encourage wider buy-in from
businesses and ordinary citizens. However,
according to all interviewees, no substantive
efforts have been made to facilitate collabora-
tive environmental activities across sectoral or
administrative boundaries.
Only a small, privileged segment of
Thailands population has been visibly active in
reducing single-use plastic consumption.
According to the head of an international NGO,
the upper-middle class have made changes.
They use social media and Instagram to show
that they use Tupperware(14). The Facebook
group, Greenery Challenge, boasts over 10 000
members comprising mainly middle-class edu-
cated urban people who want to reduce their
daily waste (12). Yet these relatively afuent cit-
izens possess greater purchasing power and
tend to generate bigger ecological footprints
than people from lower socioeconomic groups.
With time-consuming waste separation and
recycling efforts concentrated among an elite
minority, all interviewees agreed that more
socially and economically inclusive campaigns
are needed to encourage systemic change. A
member of the governments National Reform
Committee explained that outside of Bangkok
there is not much awareness. A lot of marine
debris comes from rivers upstream. We need to
raise awareness of those who live near the river
(1). Public awareness alone is unlikely to trans-
late into more ecologically sustainable practices
among poor riverine communities, however,
unless they are provided with incentivized
opportunities and time-saving alternatives to
transform existing uses of plastic.
In the private sector, plastic reduction efforts
have operated on a small scale compared with
Europe, but are slowly gaining momentum as
businesses seek to capitalize on the commercial
advantage of selling environmentally friendly
products. In 2017, an Asia-wide consumer sur-
vey found that 67.6% of participants in
Thailand preferred to buy from businesses per-
ceived as ethical (Koh, 2017), reecting both
the changing values of Thailands growing
urban middle classes who are prepared to pay
premiums associated with sustainable goods
© 2020 Victoria University of Wellington and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd 275
Thailands marine plastic pollution crisis
and their negative perceptions about unsustain-
able growth. Despite this trend towards ethical
consumerism, the greening of Thailands econ-
omy remains focused on niche products rather
than broad-based environmental achievements.
Most Thai retailers are reluctant to charge cus-
tomers for plastic bags due to fear of losing
business to their competitors, although a num-
ber of interviewees said they would welcome a
government tax (2, 3, 9). Yet the viability of
such a plastic tax has also been questioned,
with one survey nding that middle class Thai
shoppers are likely to treat the cost of plastic
bags as insignicant compared with the cost of
goods purchased. This suggests that any plastic
tariff would need to be couched in more com-
prehensive sustainability narratives around ethi-
cal consumerism in order to succeed (Rucktum
et al., 2016).
The more radical solution of banning plastic
entirely has only been taken up by a minority of
retailers. Makro, IKEA and Decathlon have
stopped using plastic bags in their Thai outlets.
In July 2019, the Mall Group, a large mall oper-
ator, started charging customers 1 Baht per bag
(Coconuts Bangkok, 2019). Additionally, in
September 2019, 26 companies, including retail
giants, such as CP All (owner of 711 retail
stores), and Big C Supercentre, plastic manufac-
turers, such as PTT, and department stores,
including the Central Group and Mall Group,
agreed that from January 2020, they will stop
handing out single-use plastic bags to customers
for free. However, details of their plans, such as
whether they will completely ban plastic bags
or instead will charge customers for them, as
well as how stringently the campaign will be
followed remain unclear (Wipatayotin, 2019).
Further, traditional forms of pre-plastic packag-
ing are slowly returning to nd new Thai middle
class markets. One local supermarket, Rimping,
in the northern city of Chiang Mai, became a
social media sensation in April 2019 when it
replaced plastic bags with banana leaf packag-
ing. This business strategy proved so popular
that Vietnamese supermarkets Lotte Mart
(Ho Chi Minh City) and Saigon Coop and Big C
(Hanoi) announced that they too would experi-
ment with banana leaves as a packing alterna-
tive, with a view to eventually replacing all
plastic with leaf packaging nationwide (Liotta
and Marsha, 2019).
Despite these initiatives around ethical con-
sumerism, consensus is lacking about the root
cause of the plastic marine pollution problem.
Reecting the plastic industrys tendency to
focus on the wrong endof the service life of
plastic (Fuhr and Patton, 2019), one company
executive argued that plastic itself is not the
problem, but, rather, Thailands waste manage-
ment system needs to become more like that of
Japan (13). Plastic producers are understandably
reluctant to agree to principles of extended pro-
ducer responsibility that would hold them
accountable for the entire lifecycle of their
products. As the head of the Thai Plastic Club
lamented, Petrochemicals have not spent any
part of their prots to teach people how to use
plastic properly and correctly and responsibility
(9). To deect such criticisms, corporations like
PTTGC have begun to engage in community
outreach activities like its Think Cycle Bank
programme, which aims to educate school chil-
dren about the importance of separating plastics
for recycling (GC News, 2019b). However, such
programmes only operate on a small scale and
are convened too infrequently to offset the
transboundary ows of environmental harm
generated by plastic production.
To scale up partnerships and programmes
aimed at maximizing the service life of plastic,
the economically and socially interdependent
countries of Southeast Asia would need to rec-
ognise that plastic marine pollution cannot be
contained within borders or addressed within
silos of sectoral expertise. A combination of pol-
icies and programmes at the international,
regional, national and sub-national scales are
required to address the tragedy of the commons
that marine plastic pollution has become (Vince
and Hardesty, 2018). In this, transboundary
publics around ethical consumerism have an
important role to play in mobilizing cultural
change by sharing information about the
collective benets of minimizing both the pro-
duction and consumption of plastic products.
Networked environmental collectives can also
serve as vehicles for building innovations
around more sustainable forms of packaging
and environmentally efcient waste manage-
ment services and infrastructures. Without a
more holistic and inclusive approach to mitigat-
ing the land-based drivers of marine pollution,
Thailand and surrounding countries will be
276 © 2020 Victoria University of Wellington and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
D. Marks et al.
unable to stem the tide of plastic waste at differ-
ent stages in its service cycle.
Conclusions: navigating a transboundary path
forward
Marine plastic pollution is one of todays most
serious environmental transboundary problems.
The ve biggest contributors to this problem are
Asian countries, including Thailand. In this arti-
cle, we have sought to contribute to an ongoing
agenda to better understand the diversity of
land-based drivers of marine plastic pollution.
We have argued that it is important to situate
these drivers, who operate in national contexts,
within the wider geographies of their trans-
boundary environmental impacts. This is neces-
sary because the worlds oceans are governed
by non-binding international legislation that is
repeatedly transgressed by terrestrial polluters
whose actions are rarely interrogated beyond
the borders of the countries in which they
reside.
Our focus on actors and institutions based in
Thailand has directed attention toward the situ-
ated processual geographies of plastic produc-
tion, consumption and waste management that
contribute to transboundary pollution of the
oceanic commons. The political, socioeco-
nomic and structural barriers we identied that
render the service cycle of plastic unsustainable
in Thailand are mirrored across the Southeast
Asian region. Around 70% of Southeast Asias
human population resides in coastal areas
under conditions of intensive urbanisation,
industrialisation, shing and shipping trafc that
seriously pollute marine environments and
deplete their biodiversity (Todd et al., 2010).
While coordinated region-wide responses to
Southeast Asias marine plastic pollution prob-
lem are critically needed, supranational and
national governance regimes continue to be
impeded by low levels of political will, weak
legislative and regulatory frameworks, insuf-
cient civic and private sector participation and
scalar disconnects between decision-making
and policy implementation bodies.
We have argued for a multi-sector, multi-
scalar approach to governing plastic pollution
rather than project-based solutions. Trans-
boundary commons around cross-sectoral
cooperation at different organizational scales
might take the form of publicprivate partner-
ships, publicpublic partnerships or hybrid co-
governance arrangements. These relationships
may extend horizontally across sub-national
and national borders as well as vertically to
connect different organisational scales of envi-
ronmental governance. For example, political
room currently exists to start cultivating more
sustainable relations between the plastics indus-
try and the Thai government. Plastic producers
in Thailand are beginning to follow their
European counterparts in moving away from
linear business operations and toward a circular
economy to extract maximum value from plas-
tic products during their service life. The Thai
government could assist this transition by
amending existing laws and regulations that
currently obstruct the reduction of single-use
plastics. Specically, MONRE could be more
proactive in operationalizing Thailands National
Waste Management Act, which incorporates
principles of Extended Producer Responsibility,
by engaging multiple stakeholders to minimise
aggregate waste.
Grassroots environmental collectives can also
help to mitigate the transboundary spread of
plastic litter. In 2016, when the state-owned
Chulalongkorn University launched its Zero
Waste Programme, students learned during their
orientation week how to reduce plastic con-
sumption, supported by the availability of water
relling stations on campus. Students also
quickly adjusted to paying two baht (US$0.06)
for bioplastic cups made from sugarcane and
plastic bags purchased from campus shops,
including from the Japanese-owned 7-Eleven
convenience store. Less than a year after the
programmes launch, the number of plastic bags
consumed on campus had dropped by 90%,
from 132 000 per month down to less than
13 000 bags per month (3).
Political will is generated by these sorts of
success stories, which serve as examples of best
practice for emulation and replication across
borders. From a transboundary governance per-
spective, political will is crucial to the mobiliza-
tion of communal activities that change our
collective relationship with plastic. When politi-
cal will is low at the level of the national gov-
ernment and big business, then external
pressure from (international) NGOs, nancial
© 2020 Victoria University of Wellington and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd 277
Thailands marine plastic pollution crisis
institutions, and the mass media can help to
turn public opinion toward participatory path-
ways to environmental reforms. This happened
in 2017 when garbage islands off the coast of
southern Thailand led to the governments tem-
porary closure of nearby tourist resorts to facili-
tate coral reef rehabilitation and local waste
management reforms, a move that received
popular support within and beyond Thailands
borders (Chaolin, 2018). Global media attention
in 2018 to the pilot whale that died from
ingesting plastic similarly spurred the Thai gov-
ernment to publicly acknowledge the severity of
the marine plastic problem, which found ech-
oes in plastic producersintensied publicity
campaigns thereafter about their sustainable
business activities.
At the supranational or regional level, ASEAN
has an instrumental role to play in supporting
civil society, plastic producers, retail businesses
and governments across the Southeast Asian
region. With its non-interventionist political cul-
ture, ASEANs emphasis on protecting regional
common goods through sustainable develop-
ment strategies is not only palatable but appeal-
ing to member countries as it emphasizes
collective economic, health and social rewards
while avoiding apportioning blame to individ-
ual governments. In March 2019, ASEANs
environment ministers took a positive rst step
to laying the groundwork for such trans-
boundary cooperation by approving in principle
the aforementioned Bangkok Declaration
(Gong, 2019). While considerable work remains
to be done in translating this framework into
actionable policies, region-wide consensus
about the shared threat posed by marine plastic
pollution represents a necessary starting point
for thinking through collective forms of policy
redress.
A region-wide commitment to reduce marine
plastic among ASEAN member countries could
open up political space and funding opportunities
for diverse actors to make innovative contribu-
tions at lower organisational scales of governance.
Transboundary commons thus warrant further
investigation as an alternative to traditional state-
led forms of environmental stewardship because
informal, exible and uid cross-border arrange-
ments for sharing knowledge, expertise and
technologies can help geographically divided
communities build capacities and learn from
each other. National governments, too, have
much to learn from sectoral innovations at
lower scales of governance, just as they do
from other countries whose global marine plas-
tic pollution rankings have dropped after
undertaking environmental reforms. Under-
standing marine plastic as an inherently trans-
boundary problem that affects us all in
commoncould facilitate the sort of cross-
border structural adjustments that are urgently
needed to transform unsustainable terrestrial
cultures of plastic production, consumption
and waste management.
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank Thareerat Laohabut for
assisting with the data collection. The second
authors contribution was nancially supported
by the Singapore Ministry of Education Social
Science Research Thematic Grant titled Sus-
tainable Governance of Transboundary Environ-
mental Commons in Southeast Asia(MOE
2016-SSRTG-068).
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Thailands marine plastic pollution crisis
APPENDIX I
Table A1 List of interviewees and date
1 Member 1 of National Reform
Committee on Marine Debris
14 August
2018
2 Thammasat University Law Professor 14 August
2018
3 Senior ofcial in Department of
Coastal and Marine Resources
23 August
2018
4 Member 2 of National Reform
Committee on Marine Debris and
board member of PTT Global
Chemical (PTTGC)
1 August
2018
5 Pollution Control Department
Ofcial
24 August
2018
6 Senior Department of Environment
Quality Promotion ofcial
24 August
2018
7 Senior member of National Reform
Committee on Marine Debris
24 August
2018
8 Senior ofcial of Thailand Plastic
Institute
23 August
2018
9 Head of Thai Plastic Industry Club 15 August
2018
10 Thammasat University Political
Science Professor
10 August
2018
11 Head of local NGO 15 August
2018
12 Senior member of Chulalongkorn
Universitys Zero Waste
Programme
7 August
2018
13 Siam Cement Group (SCG) senior
ofcial
13 August
2018
14 Head of international NGO 10 August
2018
15 Rangsit Municipality senior ofcial 15 August
2018
16 Senior Bangkok Metropolitan
Administration (BMA) ofcial
16 August
2018
17 Head of Thailand Institute of
Packaging and Recycling
Management for Sustainable
Environment (TIMPSE)
14 August
2018
Note: We have hidden the names of the two NGOs to pro-
tect the intervieweesidentities. If we listed their names, we
worry that it would be easy for those familiar with this topic
to surmise who these two interviewees are.
282 © 2020 Victoria University of Wellington and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
D. Marks et al.
... Secondary micro-and nanoplastics, the latter being defined as particles smaller than 0.1 μm in size (SAPEA, 2019), enter Southeast Asia's oceans through international ocean flows and domestic sources (Praveena et al., 2021) and are derived from plastic fragmentation. In addition to the marine plastic waste generated within Southeast Asia, developing countries in the region that are major recipients of waste exporting countries, such as the European Union, the United States of America, and China, often experience leakages from overflowing landfills and overburdened waste processing facilities into the surrounding coastal and marine environment (Marks et al., 2020). For example, Thailand receives several hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic waste imports annually, while an estimated 70 % of the country's domestic waste is being mismanaged (Marks et al., 2020). ...
... In addition to the marine plastic waste generated within Southeast Asia, developing countries in the region that are major recipients of waste exporting countries, such as the European Union, the United States of America, and China, often experience leakages from overflowing landfills and overburdened waste processing facilities into the surrounding coastal and marine environment (Marks et al., 2020). For example, Thailand receives several hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic waste imports annually, while an estimated 70 % of the country's domestic waste is being mismanaged (Marks et al., 2020). Of the country's waste produced in 2018, over a quarter was disposed of improperly, with mismanagement leading to waste entering canals or leaking onto beaches during heavy flooding events (Marks et al., 2020). ...
... For example, Thailand receives several hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic waste imports annually, while an estimated 70 % of the country's domestic waste is being mismanaged (Marks et al., 2020). Of the country's waste produced in 2018, over a quarter was disposed of improperly, with mismanagement leading to waste entering canals or leaking onto beaches during heavy flooding events (Marks et al., 2020). As the amount of plastic waste entering the marine environment remains unclear in Southeast Asia (Cordova et al., 2021b), data-driven research is required to better understand the origins of plastic pollution. ...
Article
Southeast Asia is considered to have some of the highest levels of marine plastic pollution in the world. It is therefore vitally important to increase our understanding of the impacts and risks of plastic pollution to marine ecosystems and the essential services they provide to support the development of mitigation measures in the region. An interdisciplinary, international network of experts (Australia, Indonesia, Ireland, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam) set a research agenda for marine plastic pollution in the region, synthesizing current knowledge and highlighting areas for further research in Southeast Asia. Using an inductive method, 21 research questions emerged under five non-predefined key themes, grouping them according to which: (1) characterise marine plastic pollution in Southeast Asia; (2) explore its movement and fate across the region; (3) describe the biological and chemical modifications marine plastic pollution undergoes; (4) detail its environmental, social, and economic impacts; and, finally, (5) target regional policies and possible solutions. Questions relating to these research priority areas highlight the importance of better understanding the fate of marine plastic pollution, its degradation, and the impacts and risks it can generate across communities and different ecosystem services. Knowledge of these aspects will help support actions which currently suffer from transboundary problems, lack of responsibility, and inaction to tackle the issue from its point source in the region. Being profoundly affected by marine plastic pollution, Southeast Asian countries provide an opportunity to test the effectiveness of innovative and socially inclusive changes in marine plastic governance, as well as both high and low-tech solutions, which can offer insights and actionable models to the rest of the world.
... However, only 14% of that material is collected for recycling, and only 9% is actually recycled [4]. In 2018, Thailand produced 27.8 million tons of solid waste, of which 39% was correctly disposed of, 34% was recycled, and 27% was illegally disposed of (open dumping) [5]. Annually, 2.33 million tons of plastic are manufactured. ...
Article
Full-text available
The use of concrete in road construction has grown over the past decade due to the material’s great durability. However, concrete has poor tensile strength, ductility, and energy absorption. This paper aims to investigate the utilization of plastic waste, namely polypropylene (PP), to create a novel fiber to enhance the engineering properties of fiber reinforced concrete (FRC), an eco-friendly concrete that can reduce environmental problems. The 28-day design strengths of 28 and 32 MPa were used in this study because the compressive strength requirements for concrete footpaths and pavement specified by Austroads and the Department of Highways, Thailand, were at least 25 and 32 MPa, respectively. The fiber (F) was a mixture of virgin PP and recycled PP (RPP). The study used F contents of 0.25, 0.50, 0.75, and 1% by weight of cement and PP:RPP ratios of 100:0, 75:25, 50:50, 25:75, and 0:100. The compressive strength, flexural strength, leaching, and CO2 emissions savings of FRC were evaluated. Improvements in the compressive strength, flexural strength, and toughness of the samples with F were observed in comparison to the control concrete samples for all design strengths. All mixtures met the compressive strength requirements for concrete footpaths, except for F contents of 0.75 and 1% and a PP:RPP ratio of 0:100. By contrast, the 32 MPa FRC samples with F contents of 0.25 and 0.5% and all PP:RPP ratios met the requirements for rigid pavement. From an environmental perspective, the heavy metal contaminants of the 32 MPa FRC sample were within the allowable limits for all mixtures. Regarding incineration disposal, the maximum CO2 emissions savings of 28 MPa and 32 MPa FRC with an F content of 0.5% and a PP:RPP ratio of 0:100 were 1.0 and 1.11 kg CO2-e/m3, respectively. This research will enable plastic waste, traditionally destined for incineration and landfill disposal, to be used as a sustainable fiber in the construction industry.
... Industry in Thailand produces 2.33 million tons of plastic per year, and plastic usage increases by 7-8% every year [20]. The extensive use of plastic has resulted in challenges with waste disposal management. ...
Article
Full-text available
This research investigates the possibility of using high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic waste to improve the properties of asphalt concrete pavement. HDPE plastic waste contents of 1, 3, 5, and 7% by aggregate weight were used. HDPE plastic waste=stabilized asphalt concrete pavement (HDPE-ACP) was evaluated by performance testing for stability, indirect tensile strength, resilient modulus (MR), and indirect tensile fatigue (ITF). In addition, microstructure, pavement age, and CO2 emissions savings analyses were conducted. The performance test results of the HDPE-ACP were better than those without HDPE plastic waste. The optimum HDPE plastic waste content was 5%, offering the maximum MR, ITF, and pavement age. Scanning electron microscope images showed that the excessive HDPE plastic waste content of 7% caused a surface rupture of the sample. Improvements in the pavement age of the HDPE-ACP samples were observed compared with the samples with no HDPE plastic waste. The highest pavement age of the HDPE-ACP sample was found at an HDPE plastic waste content of 5% by aggregate weight. The CO2 emissions savings of the sample was 67.85 kg CO2-e/m3 at the optimum HDPE plastic waste content.
... US production (54 Mtonnes/y) and Brazilian production (6.2 Mtonnes/y) were estimated based on data from Statista (2019b and2019c). Data for Africa, Oceania and India was made available in a publication from the UN (Ryberg 2018), and data for Thailand was obtained from the literature (Marks 2020). ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
This report aims to contribute to a better understanding of bio-based chemicals, plastics and pharmaceuticals in comparison to their competing fossil-based technologies, selecting representative value chains for each of the categories. This information is also needed to feed forward-looking modelling tools with aggregated data, which serves as a starting point for simulating different medium- to long-term development pathways for bio-based innovations.
Article
Haze is a product of in‐situ biomass fires that becomes mobile as it moves across state boundaries in Southeast Asia. The literature on the governance of transboundary air commons has largely been fixed at the national or supranational scalar of reference. Hence, successes and failures tend to be evaluated based on policy and diplomatic (non)progress. This paper contributes to recent literature that argues that haze should be treated as a challenge and opportunity for transboundary governance and not merely transnational governance. Transboundary governance does not restrict the study of cross‐border relations to national scales of analysis but encompasses resource connections that traverse borders at all scales of governance. This paper focuses on Singapore, a state where biomass fires do not occur but where the effects of haze are acutely felt. Among ASEAN member states, Singapore has been viewed as a particularly active player in region‐wide governance on haze. However, the role of non‐state environmental stewardship initiatives in pathfinding, nudging, and signalling state, corporate and regional actors towards emergent transboundary governance arrangements have been underplayed. By focusing on the efforts of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), Singapore Environment Council (SEC), and People's Movement to Stop Haze (PM Haze), this paper explores how transboundary publics can fill policy gaps in transnational haze governance regimes. As a highly depoliticised city‐state, Singapore's experience serves as a microcosm for ways forward within the broader ASEAN geopolitical culture favouring depoliticised ‘engaged non‐indifference’.
Article
With the frequent coastal activities of human beings, tens of thousands of tons of floating marine plastics pose a serious threat to marine ecosystems and human survival. This paper studies the feasibility of regional marine plastic garbage management, taking the Northwest Pacific as the research object. According to the Cobb-Douglas utility function of the costs and benefits of plastic processing in China, Japan and South Korea, the Shapley value method was used to analyze it. The study found that the data were substituted into the Shapley value model of cooperative game for calculation, and the results showed that any country joining the triple alliance U would create greater benefits, and obtain higher benefits than the sub alliance. It is a triple win situation for China, Japan and the South Korea to jointly manage marine plastic in the Northwest Pacific. The results of the model confirm that the three countries are willing to maintain long-term cooperation on marine plastic governance, this method can be used to solve the trans-national marine governance innovatively and promote regional ocean cooperation governance. At the same time, by comparing the Northwest Pacific Plan with other action plans, China, Japan and South Korea should abandon political controversy, seeking common ground while putting aside differences, to cooperate fully to curb the growing trend of plastic waste problem in the Northwest Pacific, and contribute to the sustainable development of regional marine.
Article
Full-text available
COVID-19 has changed the permeability of borders in transboundary environmental governance regimes. While borders have always been selectively permeable, the pandemic has reconfigured the nature of cross-border flows of people, natural resources, finances and technologies. This has altered the availability of spaces for enacting sustainability initiatives within and between countries. In Southeast Asia, national governments and businesses seeking to expedite economic recovery from the pandemic-induced recession have selectively re-opened borders by accelerating production and revitalizing agro-export growth. Widening regional inequities have also contributed to increased cross-border flows of illicit commodities, such as trafficked wildlife. At the same time, border restrictions under the exigencies of controlling the pandemic have led to a rolling back and scaling down of transboundary environmental agreements, regulations and programs, with important implications for environmental democracy, socio-ecological justice and sustainability. Drawing on evidence from Southeast Asia, the article assesses the policy challenges and opportunities posed by the shifting permeability of borders for organising and operationalising environmental activities at different scales of transboundary governance.
Chapter
This chapter revisits the challenge of sustainable waste management and summarizes the content of this book. The importance of applying waste-to-resource development to supplement the “reduce, reuse, and recycle” (3R) strategy, and the barriers against sustainable waste management in rural areas are highlighted. It emphasizes that the demands of local residents need to be met for promoting the engagement of rural residents as one of the key factors affecting the sustainability of waste-to-resource development in rural areas. This chapter promotes the concept of decentralized systems which can better cater to the demands of end users. Finally, this chapter suggests four future directions to pursue for enhancing waste-to-resource development.
Article
Full-text available
This study develops a transboundary political ecology of air pollution to show how its spatially and socially unequal distribution constitutes a form of slow violence among already marginal sections of society. Recent research on transboundary air pollution in Southeast Asia and globally has mainly focused on the supranational or regional scale of environmental governance without taking into proper account the socially differentiated impacts of these cross-border flows of environmental harm at lower organisational scales. Air pollution in Thailand, which ranks amongst the worst in the world, generates spill-over effects across sub-national borders that disproportionately impact the urban and rural poor. We examine the drivers of the three major sources of air pollution in Thailand: vehicular emissions, agricultural emissions and industrial emissions to direct attention toward the barriers and opportunities for collaborative governance in urban, peri-urban and rural settings. The article argues that administrative fragmentation and the protection of vested economic interests by Thai business and political elites have compromised transboundary governance of the air while adding to socio-spatial inequalities and environmental injustices. We recommend legislative reforms centred on cross-sectoral and cross-jurisdictional cooperation to provide redress for the slow violence perpetrated against marginal citizens in the governance of air pollution. K E Y W O R D S air pollution, environmental governance, political ecology, slow violence, Thailand, transboundary
Article
The distribution, characteristics, and ecological risk of microplastics in beach sand and seawater samples collected along the shore of Rayong province, Thailand, were investigated in this study. The average microplastics abundance in beach sand and seawater was 338.89 ± 264.94 particles/kg d.w. and 1781.48 ± 1598.36 particles/m3, respectively. Beach sand and seawater had the most yellow-brown particles and transparent microfibers, respectively. The most common microplastics (100-500 μm) and polyethylene were found. In beach sand, the potential ecological risk (RI) is classified as minor, while in seawater, it is classified as medium. The PLIzone in beach sand and seawater was Hazard Level II and Hazard Level IV, respectively. Despite their apparent proximity, the non-correlation between risk levels in beach sand and seawater may be due to polymer type variations influenced by the different land-based and sea-based sources.
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