‘Lazy, Aesthetically Ugly Problem Degrades Destinations’ says Travel Agent
Bangkok based travel agent Khiri Travel is seeking to raise awareness of the disposable plastic bag problem in Thailand and Indochina. As a practical first step, the company has purchased 1,000 machine washable cotton bags which it will distribute to tourism partners, villagers and staff in destinations it visits.
The 1,000 ‘Earth Bags’ were manufactured by the Special People Foundation (SPF) in Chiang Mai which gives meaningful work to Thai people with disabilities. Each bag has a unique design. None are the same. All are painted individually by physically impaired artists, most of them children from Chiang Mai.
"There are two issues Khiri Travel wants to address," said Frans Betgem, the company’s co-founder. "First, the unnecessary and unsightly problem of plastic bags. They take hundreds of years to decompose. They kill river and sea life. And they spoil the aesthetic appeal of parks, villages, city streets and canals – many of them tourist attractions. Second, there are 1.2 million people with disabilities in Thailand alone. Giving them viable work at SPF helps their daily survival and their self esteem."
Mr. Betgem said that Khiri Travel encounters many village people with disabilities on tour itineraries across Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. "They are quiet heroes getting by the best they can. The Special People Foundation embraces them and takes noble, practical steps to help them. Khiri Travel is grateful for their Earth Bag initiative."
The Special People Foundation helps about 500 people from north to south Thailand. It aims to develop strength and happiness for body and mind. It does this through Thai massage therapy and by community rehabilitation such as providing special wheel chairs, walking sticks, electronic tricycles and work desks. The artisans also make vocational products for sale such as the Earth Bag.
"Each person is special, no matter how disabled," said Ms Jan Chaithavuthi, co-founder SPF. "The Earth Bag paintings come from their hearts to you."
Experts estimate that 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags are consumed and discarded annually worldwide – more than a million per minute. Even in developed countries with more advanced recycling facilities, less than 3% of plastic bags are recycled.
Plastic bags are typically made of polyethylene. They can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade in landfills that emit harmful greenhouse gases. In the process they separate into smaller and smaller toxic particles that contaminate soil and water. In rivers, lakes and sea, marine mammals often mistake bags for food, eat them, and die.
Said Mr Betgem: "Plastic bag usage is a lazy, aesthetically ugly problem that degrades the environment and the travel experience. We can start to solve the problem with a better mindset and a few simple behaviour changes."
There are also good examples of what governments can do to help. In 2001, Ireland was using 1.2 billion plastic bags annually, about 316 per person. In 2002, the Irish government imposed a plastic bag consumption tax which has reduced consumption by 90%. The tax of $0.15 per bag is paid by consumers when they check out at the store. Besides cutting back on litter, Ireland’s tax has saved approximately 18 million litres of oil. Several other jurisdictions around the world are now considering and implemeneting a similar tax on plastic bags.
Khiri Travel, established in 1994, is an independent destination management company with its own regional network. It has seven offices in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Visit www.khiri.com.