Originally, 80 percent of marine debris is from land and if one wants to describe a journey of land waste to the sea it might be comparable to managing water from upstream to downstream. Seawater has its origin from sources in the mainland, similarly marine waste originated from many households in Thailand. These wastes find its way to waterways, via canal, rivers and reach the ocean safely by avoiding waste management and termination process along the way.
From data collected in 2018, Thailand generated 27.82 million tons of waste, a 1.64% increase from 2017, of which are 2 million tons of plastic waste and only 0.5 million tons were recycled. That means some plastic waste flows unnoticeably into the sea every day and pollute the ecosystem causing death to uncountable marine animals, not to mention the effect from micro-plastics that return to the human food chain. These are just a few reasons why the worldwide ban on plastic has emerged.
From the spatial analysis of Assoc. Prof. Dr. Suchana Chavanich, professor at the Department of Marine Science, Faculty of Science Chulalongkorn University found that most Thai people have a misconception about marine waste. They thought that marine waste in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman coast comes from foreign countries despite the obvious fact that its origin is from land and Thai people themselves as well as tourists are responsible for this, while the main rivers in Thailand are acting like highways carrying waste to the sea, for example, Mae Klong River, Tha Chin River, Pa Sak River and Chao Phraya River etc.
Especially the Chao Phraya river, which is the confluence of the Ping and Wang rivers including Yom and Nan rivers upstream, carries streams of garbage that flows into the Gulf of Thailand. During monsoon season, garbage that has gone into the sea will be washed back to beaches in the upper part of the Gulf of Thailand reaching the lower part in the southern region following the currents of monsoon waves.
Another set of data collected by Asst. Prof. Dr. Thon Thamrongnawasawat from Kasetsart University who works continuously in the Andaman Sea region emphasized that marine waste in the Gulf of Thailand has not decreased at all, on the contrary, it is increasingly accumulating every year. During his 2 years research on garbage collection at Phang Nga Beach, in 2018 alone, 82.3 tons of marine waste had been collected and in 2019, it was 95.28 tons.
It can be assured that almost garbage collected has a Thai label with a few exceptions of some foreign languages labels from garbage which have been blown by the waves from Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar, and most of them are under the influence of monsoon winds blowing from the South China Sea via Cà Mau Peninsula. However, the total amount of marine waste in Thailand, which makes it ranked 6th in the world, mostly comes from the hands of Thai people.
When we calculate the direction of monsoon wind, it would be easier to see how garbage from the inner provinces of Thailand reappear in coastal provinces by being thrown into the rivers and carried away to other shore across the Gulf of Thailand.
In the Gulf of Thailand during the northeast monsoon season from April to August, the current will flow clockwise. Therefore, the tides and rubbish from the river mouth may be washed away on beaches as far as the far eastern shores. From November to January it is the southwest monsoon season and the tide in the Gulf of Thailand will flow counter-clockwise. During this time, water currents and garbage from the mouth of Chao Phraya river will be carried away as far as the southern coast.
In the Andaman Sea, from January to May the northeast monsoon will cause the sea tides flowing from north to south, from Myanmar through Phuket and reach Malaysia. On the contrary, from August to October, the southwest monsoon wind will blow from south to north.
Therefore, it is quite normal for plastic waste from one country to reach the beach in another country. It depends on the direction of the wind at that time, but it does not mean that the plastic waste from the south is exclusively from Malaysia or the country nearby. Similarly, the waste in the northern part of the Andaman sea does not solely come from Myanmar but also from Bangladesh, India, or other countries as well.
Pinsak Suraswadee, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, said that if we want to identify the origin of each plastic waste, we must look at the source of production which on the label. There are 2 sources of marine wastes, firstly it washed away by the ocean current and secondly, from the tourists.
Many agencies are now putting a priority on trapping waste in the river before letting it reaches the mouth of the river as an effective method of reducing sea waste problems. They are also raising public awareness through the campaign called "Rowing for Chao Phraya: Garbage Picking from Pak Nam Pho to the Gulf of Thailand”, which has been conducted for the second year. This activity is the collaboration between Thammasat University together with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of the Interior and related network partners.
Last year, the participants have rowed on the Chao Phraya River from Pak Nam Pho, Nakhon Sawan to Samut Prakan, a total distance of 349.5 kilometres, while picking up more than 2,160 kilograms of the garbage along the waterway. In total, there were 1,505 kilograms of general waste, 387 kilograms of recyclable waste, 47 kilograms of hazardous waste, and 221 kilograms of organic waste.
This year's event will be held between October 1-10, 2019, with 10 volunteer boats rowing from start to finish while extra 40 boats from each province will be participating in waste collection in each area. The garbage will be transported to a local venue as a tool to teach local people how to separate waste properly. There will be more than 400 volunteers from the Royal Society 904, who have passed the training on waste separation, to help educate the public on this issue.
Therefore, it is necessary to continue raising public awareness and changing behavior to be more environment-friendly. At the same time, the proper garbage separation campaign will have to be expanded to cover more communities throughout the country. For we might have never seen the end of waste collection campaign but we might find a sustainable solution through abstaining.