BANGKOK: A plastic bag ban that came into effect last week to force shoppers to go green is threatening to sink its makers in the red, even as factories slash prices to woo retailers.
An agreement between the Thai government and major retailers across Thailand to stop providing free single-use shopping plastic bags came into effect on Jan 1 following publicity surrounding the deaths of marine life that had consumed plastic bags and a subsequent intense campaign against the products.
In August last year, a orphaned baby dugong named “Mariam”, which won hearts in Thailand, died from an infection. Bits of plastic were found in its stomach.
According to Greenpeace, Thailand is the world’s sixth biggest contributor of ocean waste and produces more than 2.2 million tonnes of plastic waste a year.
“The ban is the only way we can tackle the issue, ” said Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biology professor at Kasetsart University.
Thon, who helped the government draft the roadmap to ban and limit plastic products in Thailand, added: “Next to go are plastic straws and single-use plastic cups.”
But even as environmentalists are hailing the initiative, Thailand’s 1,000 plastic bag factories suffer from the ban with some expecting to close in months if the government does not provide some form of assistance.
“The effects are really severe, ” said Thai Plastic Industries Association vice-president Naphat Thipthanakit and the owner of a plastic bag factory that employs 160 workers.
Three in four of Naphat’s customers are retail chains and include malls, coffee shops and restaurants that joined the “Everyday Say No to Plastic Bags” alliance.
They have stopped ordering plastic bags from his factory since October last year, resulting in the loss of most of his 14 million baht (RM1.89mil) monthly revenue.
“The problem lies with the government’s unclear messages and plans, ” he said, adding that the bags his factory makes can be reused many times, as they are up to 50 microns thick, but retailers just stopped ordering them.
“It’s the thin single-use plastic bags of 12 microns that create problems for the environment, not the thicker bags like ours, ” he added.
According to Naphat, to revamp the machinery so the factory can manufacture other plastic products would cost too much.
“I’d better give up on business and just retire. To reap the benefits of new investments will take too long for me, ” the 60-year-old, who has been in the trade for over 40 years, said. — The Straits Times/ANN