Nature and Biodiversity

Here's how Thailand's Phuket island is going to fight plastic waste from tourism

A Thai food vendor strolls past empty beach chairs as a storm approaches Patong Beach on the Southern Thai resort island of Phuket October 31, 2002.Thailand reassured tourists on Thursday that the country was safe despitewarnings from western nations such as Britain which said on Tuesday threatsto westerners on Phuket island had increased sharply. Phuket relies heavilyon the tourist trade and economists say a major fall in tourist arrivalswould slice a large chunk off Thailand's foreign exchange earnings and throwmillions of people out of work. NO RIGHTS CLEARANCES OR PERMISSIONS ARE REQUIRED FOR THIS IMAGE  REUTERS/Jason ReedJIR/JS

Hotels have committed to phase out plastic water bottles and plastic drinking straws by 2019. Image: REUTERS/Jason ReedJIR/JS

Michael Taylor
Asia correspondent and sub-editor, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Nature and Biodiversity?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Future of the Environment is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Future of the Environment

For the millions of sun seekers who head to Thailand's resort island of Phuket each year in search of stunning beaches and clear waters, cutting down on waste may not be a top priority.

But the island's hotel association is hoping to change that with a series of initiatives aimed at reducing the use of plastic, tackling the garbage that washes up on its shores, and educating staff, local communities and tourists alike.

"Hotels unchecked are huge consumers and users of single-use plastics," said Anthony Lark, president of the Phuket Hotels Association and managing director of the Trisara resort.

"Every resort in Southeast Asia has a plastic problem. Until we all make a change, it's going to get worse and worse," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Established in 2016 and with about 70 members - including all Phuket's five-star hotels - the association has put tackling environmental issues high on its to-do list.

Last year the group surveyed members' plastics use and then began looking at ways to shrink their plastics footprint.

As part of this, three months ago the association's hotels committed to phase out, or put plans in place to stop using plastic water bottles and plastic drinking straws by 2019.

About five years ago, Lark's own resort with about 40 villas used to dump into landfill about 250,000 plastic water bottles annually. It has now switched to reusable glass bottles.

The hotel association also teamed up with the documentary makers of "A Plastic Ocean", and now show an edited version with Thai subtitles for staff training.

Meanwhile hotel employees and local school children take part in regular beach clean-ups.

"The association is involved in good and inclusive community-based action, rather than just hotel general managers getting together for a drink," Lark said.

Creators and victims

Phuket, like Bali in Indonesia and Boracay in the Philippines, has become a top holiday destination in Southeast Asia - and faces similar challenges.

Of a similar size to Singapore and at the geographical heart of Southeast Asia, Phuket is easily accessible to tourists from China, India, Malaysia and Australia.

With its white sandy beaches and infamous nightlife, Phuket attracts about 10 million visitors each year, media reports say, helping make the Thai tourism industry one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lacklustre economy.

Popular with holiday makers and retirees, Phuket - like many other Southeast Asian resorts - must contend with traffic congestion, poor water management and patchy waste collection services.

Despite these persistent problems, hotels in the region need to follow Phuket's lead and step up action to cut their dependence on plastics, said Susan Ruffo, a managing director at the U.S.-based non-profit group Ocean Conservancy.

Worldwide, between 8 million and 15 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, UN Environment says.

Five Asian countries - China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand - account for up to 60 percent of plastic waste leaking into the seas, an Ocean Conservancy study found.

"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," 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," she added.

 A tourist collects plastic items washed up by the sea at the Ao Phrao Beach, on the island of Ko Samet, Thailand June 9, 2018.
Image: Reuters/Jorge Silva

Changing minds, cutting costs

Data on how much plastic is used by hotels and the hospitality industry is hard to find. But packaging accounts for up to 40 percent of an establishment's waste stream, according to a 2011 study by The Travel Foundation, a UK-based charity.

Water bottles, shampoo bottles, toothbrushes and even food delivered by room service all tend to use throw-away plastics.

In the past, the hospitality industry has looked at how to use less water and energy, said Von Hernandez, global coordinator at the "Break Free From Plastic" movement in Manila.

Now hotels are turning their attention to single-use plastics amid growing public awareness about damage to oceans.

"A lot of hotels are doing good work around plastics", adopting measures to eliminate or shrink their footprint, said Hernandez.

But hotels in Southeast Asia often have to contend with poor waste management and crumbling infrastructure.

"I've seen resorts in Bali that pay staff to rake the beach every morning to get rid of plastic, but then they either dig a hole, and bury it or burn it on the beach," said Ruffo. "Those are not effective solutions, and can lead to other issues."

Hotels should 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, experts said.

"Over time, this could actually lower their operational costs - it could give them savings," said Hernandez. "It could help change mindsets of people, so that when they go back to their usual lives, they have a little bit of education."

Have you read?

Back in Phuket, the hotel association is exploring ways to cut plastic waste further, and will host its first regional forum on environmental awareness next month.

The hope is that what the group has learned over the last two years can be implemented at other Southeast Asian resorts and across the wider community.

"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. (Reporting by Michael Taylor, Editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversitySustainable Development
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Why nature-positive cities can help transform the planet

Carlos Correa Escaf

May 24, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum