Why is South east Asia callous about plastic?

So a bunch of us are on holiday in Phuket. It is ridiculous the amount of plastic waste generated here. So a funny incident happened, @knadh’s wife, Deepa, gave her refillable bottle to a juice vendor to avoid the plastic glass. The vendor filled the bottle with just and then anyways added the extra in a plastic glass and gave it to her saying it couldn’t be filled in the bottle. :grimacing:

It isn’t just Phuket or Thailand, but generally across Singapore, and Malaysia, it is ridiculous how much plastic gets consumed. It almost feels like we are doing something right in India.

Does anyone know why this attitude to plastic when most of the world (especially the higher GDP nations) is trying to make a change that some of the south-east asian countries don’t care for plastic? It can’t be because they are able to recycling all the plastic, as a lot of it seems like single use plastic products.

Was trying to look for any blogs/articles on this, and found this - Southeast Asia's plastic 'addiction' blights world's oceans | Reuters (From 2018 :sweat_smile: )

Seems like this stems from a combined lack of engagement/awareness among public, government and businesses.

Also, long ago this diver had shared a video with diving site full of plastics that got a lot of attention, but seems like nothing happened after it.

More context for the video here - Plastic, plastic, so much plastic - can a viral video change… | ZuBlu

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Few of the diving places have become quite strict. Though mainland Indonesia has a lot of issues with single use plastic, the islands have a lot of awareness about it, and actively ask you to not use plastic. Not sure how it is in the Thailand diving places.

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There are multiple reasons:

  1. They dont have an infrastructure for reuse/recycling at scale. All the countries are heavily dependent on the single use culture (Some opt for biobased materials - without composting)
  2. As a brand/food stall owner - Convenience is key. There is no alternative packaging material which can offer this convenience of just “throwing” packaging away
  3. Price - None of the single use biobased packaging can compete on the price parameter yet + as the reuse infrastructure is not present, its not even a viable option.
  4. Application of EPR laws are voluntary in Thailand and lot of other countries. So if it doesnt hurt a business a owner, they will continue in the existing manner
  5. Tourist heavy spots will have even more single use packaging options due to the nature of the business

There are a few companies trying to solve it in Singapore but they charge a deposit for reusable packaging which is not affordable/unheard of for majority of the people.


Here’s an interesting case-study of Rwanda by a Singaporean News Agency. Rwanda banned plastic way back in 2008. Rwanda is doing many things right (it doesn’t get covered because it provides a positive narrative).

India definitely is doing something right with the plastic ban – though it needs to be tightened a lot more. :slightly_smiling_face:

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This is an interesting read on this topic.

South East Asia contributes 12% of Global Plastic production. And it is not the case that as a region they have not been trying to minimize the contribution. For example in the past 3 years, there have been various policies to minimize the contribution including taxes on single-use plastics and mandatory use of biodegradable plastics. However, all these efforts have been top-down and hence you are experiencing such mindsets.

Philosophically, the way darkness is just the absence of light, it is a classic problem of lack of knowledge (the massive unintended consequences of individual actions) or having a mindset - me akela kya kar lunga (my individual consciousness will bring no changes). It seems we as a nation have been able to propagate this mindset to the individual level - but a long way to go!

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