How Phuket is fighting the growing tide of plastic pollution
THAILAND’S resort island of Phuket is perhaps the country’s most stunning beach destination, with its white sandy beaches and posh resorts.
Located in the Andaman Sea at the geographical heart of Southeast Asia, the rainforested and mountainous island is surrounded by the clearest waters glistening in the sun, likely the clearest you will ever see in your life.
The popular island is easily accessible to tourists from China, India, Malaysia, and Australia. However, its popularity comes with a price, and if nothing is done, it will only get worse.
Tourists and locals alike love Phuket for its romantic beachfront resorts, luxurious spas, and the abundance of authentic Thai restaurants.
But it also has the best of both worlds.
Phuket City is often overlooked in favor of the beaches, but there are lots to do and plenty to see. The old town is full of heritage buildings such as colorful old shophouses lining the streets.
An exciting mix of old and new, Phuket City hardly ever sleeps, with monks taking to the streets in the mornings on their daily alms and party people flocking to Patong for its many nightclubs, bars, and discos.
Somewhere in between day and night, Phuket City’s markets buzz with activities and the hustle and bustle lasts well into the evening.
This is perhaps the reason why the island almost never has a lack of travelers.
Like Bali in Indonesia and Boracay in the Philippines, Phuket has become burdened by a plastic problem.
According to Ocean Conservancy, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are five countries that are dumping more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the world combined.
Due to poor waste processing infrastructure, in the five Asian countries listed above, only about 40 percent of garbage is properly collected.
As such, Phuket’s hotel association has launched a series of initiatives aimed at reducing the use of plastic; tackling the garbage that washed up on its shores; educating staff, local communities, and tourists.
“Hotels unchecked are huge consumers and users of single-use plastics,” Reuters quoted Phuket Hotels Association president and Trisara resort managing director Anthony Lark as saying.
“Every resort in Southeast Asia has a plastic problem. Until we all make a change, it’s going to get worse and worse.”
Established in 2016, the association has 70 members including all of Phuket’s five-star hotels.
Last year the group surveyed members’ plastics use and then began looking at ways to shrink their plastics footprint.
Five years ago, Lark’s own resort used to dump about 250,000 plastic water bottles annually, but it has now switched to reusable glass bottles.
This will soon be followed by the association’s hotel, who have all committed to phase out or stop using plastic water bottles and plastic drinking straws by 2019.
“As both creators and ‘victims’ of waste, the hotel industry has a lot to gain by making efforts to control their own waste and helping their guests do the same,” Ocean Conservancy managing director Susan Ruffo said.
“We are seeing more and more resorts and chains start to take action, but there is a lot more to be done, particularly in the area of ensuring that hotel waste is properly collected and recycled.”
The association has also teamed up with A Plastic Ocean documentary makers to help train their staff, while hotel employees and local school children take part in regular beach clean-ups.
On top of that, it is exploring ways to cut plastic waste further and will host its first regional forum on environmental awareness next month.
“If the 20,000 staff in our hotels go home and educate mum and dad about recycling or reusing, it’s going to make a big difference,” said Lark.
Meanwhile, experts have suggested hotels look at providing reusable water containers and refill stations, giving guests metal or bamboo drinking straws and bamboo toothbrushes, and replacing single-use soap and shampoo containers with refillable dispensers.
“Over time, this could actually lower their operational costs – it could give them savings,” Break Free From Plastic movement global coordinator Von Hernandez said.
“It could help change mindsets so that when they go back to their usual lives, they have a little bit of education.”