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How to Reduce Your Environmental Impact in Thailand

Picture this: I’m walking down the street in sunny San Diego with an iced almond latte in one hand, proudly sporting my stainless steel tumbler and straw. I feel as though I’m saving the world with my farmers market tote in the other hand. Fast forward one month and I’m ordering a Thai coffee in broken Thai for 30 baht from a street vendor. My stomach churns as I watch the smiling woman hand me a plastic cup with a plastic lid and a plastic straw. Then, my heart sinks further as I consider my environmental impact as she places the drink in some sort of plastic bag handle device.

Plastic cup with plastic lid and plastic straw in a plastic bag in Thailand

From the day I was born my parents engrained reduce, reuse, recycle, repair, or refuse into my mind. However, I never really considered how my habits back home would translate abroad.

My First Impression of Thailand

Having only spent one week here in Thailand I am constantly amazed by the prevalence of single-use plastic. There are plastic water bottles everywhere. At 7-Eleven they’ll give you a plastic straw in a plastic wrapper for your plastic drink bottle all held together in a plastic shopping bag. Or at a local market they’ll wrap your dried fruit in a plastic sheet, tie it with a rubber band, and place it inside another plastic bag. Even bananas come in plastic bags. And to think I was annoyed by the shrink-wrapped cucumbers at Trader Joe’s back home.

XploreAsia teacher visits elephant sanctuary in Thailand
Rescue Paws volunteer in Hua Hin, Thailand

Thailand is one of the most beautiful countries in the worldknown for its tropical beaches, lush forests, high mountains, and glittering Buddhist temples. The various street vendors and markets on every corner allow visitors to support the local economy. They also have an amazing ecotourism industry where visitors can participate in sustainable travel.  Visitors can opt for a homestay, support a humane elephant sanctuary, or volunteer with a nonprofit organization, such as our very own Rescue Paws. While Thailand has exceeded my expectations with its sheer beauty, pollution is still a very real issue.  

My first visit to the beach was quite a humbling experience. This particular beach was absolutely gorgeous with white sand and calm waves, but there were hundreds of tiny pieces of plastic stuck in the seaweed that washed onto shore. Yes, plastic is convenient. Yes, it is a low-cost option. Yes, there are other pressing issues besides the environment. But I think as both guests and educators in this country we can do something!

Progress Towards Sustainability in Thailand

By no means are things all gloom and doom here in Thailand. The country has definitely made some significant strides towards sustainability. Tesco sells reusable bags, local coffee shops provide discounts for bringing a reusable cup, most busy locations have recycling bins, and national parks recently placed a ban on plastic.

Plastic Ban in National Parks

This large sign appears at the entrance of the Sam Roi Yot National Park near Hua Hin
Plastic ban sign in Sam Roi Yot National Park in Thailand
In 2013, a group of environmental activists in Thailand formed a nonprofit organization called Trash Hero with the mission to bring communities together by reducing waste through action and awareness.  As of June 2018, more than 104,000 volunteers have removed almost 597 tons of garbage from beaches and cities across Thailand and ten other countries. There’s a chapter right here in Hua Hin that holds weekly beach cleanups every Sunday. This is a great opportunity to collaborate with the local community for a greater cause!
Trash Hero volunteer educating youth about plastic and sustainability in Thailand

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We interviewed one of XploreAsia’s very own program coordinators about her experience with Trash Hero

Whether we are teachers, interns, volunteers, or just tourists in Thailand there are some small changes we can make in our new everyday lives here to help make a difference and lower our environmental impact. The first thing on everyone’s to-do list after arriving in Thailand should be to buy a reusable water bottle. I bought a large water jug and have been refilling it with clean drinking water at many locations around Hua Hin for 5 baht.  Furthermore, we can purchase reusable shopping bags and take-away containers to use at local markets and street vendors.

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Adorable kids from Trash Hero teach us how to say no to plastic bags in Thai

Helpful Thai Phrases

Mai sai tung ka/krap = don’t need a bag
Mai ao lawd ka/ krap = don’t want a straw
Mai = no
Sai = need
Ao = want
Tung = bag
Lawd = straw
*make sure to add ka (if you’re a female) or krap (if you’re a male) at the end to be polite*

Our Role as Educators

Most importantly, we can educate our students about how to reduce our environmental impact and the importance of minimizing single-use plastic. This global issue will affect their future unless we do something about it now! Many of our teachers have set up recycling bins and demonstrated to the students how to appropriately sort waste. We can and should incorporate sustainability into our lesson plans. For example, when learning the English words for animals we can teach students about marine life and what we can do to protect them. In addition, during a lesson about household items we could play fun games that teach them about saving water and energy.

Teacher from XploreAsia teaching Thai class about the beach
XploreAsia Teacher in front of class in Thailand

By teaching in Thailand, we have the ability to encourage our students to discover other ways to protect the planet. During XploreAsia’s overseas in-class TESOL training participants will learn different activities and lesson plans to encourage conservation. Since this is a cross-cultural experience, your students may even come up with some ideas that you haven’t considered. Let’s work together to make a difference and preserve Thailand’s natural beauty!

Written by: Maya Vrechek

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