Is plastic a topic that is also discussed among youth in Thailand? What to expect from politicians and why should consumer culture change? Chompupischaya Saiboonyadis, student of International Economics and Trade at Sias University and member of the International Youth Advisory Board for the publication “Unpacked! Plastic, Waste & Me” by Heinrich Böll Stiftung shares how she got into environmental activism and what needs to be done about plastic pollution, waste management and the circular economy.
How long have you been dealing with the topic of plastic waste and how did you become a member of the International Youth Advisory Board for the Böll Stiftung´s publication “Unpacked! Plastic, Waste & Me”?
Chompupischaya Saiboonyadis: About two years now; my favorite English teacher at the time, Kanatip "LG" Soonthornrak, a well-known Thai celebrity, shared the online documentary called “Story of Plastic” posted by Greenpeace Thailand on their Facebook page. The documentary gave me a big picture of what is actually going on in our society and how much plastic waste we live in. It made me realize that in order to work on the plastic problem, we have to start at the beginning and change the way plastic is produced. We need to make companies accountable for the impact of their products. We need to talk to the producers, not the customers.
After that, I didn’t hesitate to sign up for Greenpeace’s Youth Wavemakers Camp, and luckily I got in. The camp focused on the problem of marine ecosystem and fishing in Thailand, not particularly on plastic. My passion for environmental protection continued to rise. The participants and staff from the camp kept in touch with each other and shared many great events. Then one day the staff contacted me directly, wondering if I’d be interested in the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung book project. They wanted opinions on the book from my generation. I researched a little bit about it and saw the previous publication, the Plastic Atlas https://th.boell.org/en/2021/04/22/plastic-atlas-asia-edition , which is amazing. So, I decided to join the meeting and became a member of the International Youth Advisory Board.
Can you tell us a little bit about the book? What is it about and what was your role as a youth advisor?
It contains everything you need to know about plastic. One thing I like about this book is that they name the chapter as questions. The book seeks to answer four main questions: “Plastic-What is it all about?”, “Waste-what’s the problem?”, “Me-What does this have to do with me?” and “Are there solutions?”. Throughout the 70 different chapter sub-questions, the book shows the science with easy-to-read graphs and colorful illustrations. My personal favorite chapter is number 20 about plastic-free menstrual products. As a youth advisor, I give opinions about the illustrations in order to see how clear they convey the message. I also got a chance to talk about the plastic waste situation in Thailand with other youth advisors. During the international launch, we spoke about how to include everyone in this movement and how government policies and politics affect the environmental protection in Thailand.
Why is plastic pollution so relevant especially for young people? Why do young people have more awareness about it?
I think we gain more knowledge through social media. There are many people out there, who are doing a fantastic job. They are on every platform, and they make the topic of plastic pollution so interesting. Because of social media, we can also see how badly climate change affects people around the world. Many people will say that the younger generation is too sensitive, but I’ll say we just want to create a safe space for everyone and be more inclusive. That’s why we have a lot of sympathy toward people we don’t know. Among young people in Thailand, the main plastic issue, that is talked about regularly on twitter, is linked to the fashion industry, especially the businesses that use the fast fashion model. We talk about plastic pollution, water pollution, air pollution and even human rights. Clothes nowadays are made from plastic and with fast fashion; young people are encouraged to buy new trendy clothes all the time. That leads to overconsumption. The number of annual clothing consumption in many countries have been increasing and causing more than 85% of clothing ending up in landfills. Imagine how huge that pile of polyester is! We came up with a bunch of solutions; the one that we all agreed that might be the best solution is simply buy less. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it.
Have you changed your own behavior regarding the usage of plastic? What are your strategies to reduce plastic in your everyday life and how are you trying to raise awareness in your personal environment?
My behavior changed so much in the last couple of years. I buy less and eat less delivery food. I think about everything I purchase from how I reuse the packaging, to how good the company does with environmental aspects, and if they actually value it as their responsibility too. I love fashion, so I use an alternative like buying second-hand clothes instead. There’s no problem finding clothes my size and my style. However, I know I have a privilege that some don’t and it’s so easy for me to fall into the overconsumption trap again. So, I always ask myself these questions every time I purchase. Do I really need it? Am I really going to wear it? Does it match with other clothes in my closet? I always share this information with my family, my friends, and to my followers on social media. It really works! I can see that I have a good influence on them. Many of my friends stop supporting the fast fashion stores and choose to buy second-hand clothes instead.
Are you participating in any environmental activities? How do you think a greater awareness for this issue could be raised, especially among young people?
Yes, but mostly online petitions. Signing up for fixing the law and policy, issues like PM 2.5 and importing plastic for example. I think influencers and celebrities have a lot of impact on young people, so having them as a face or promoting the movement on social media would definitely make a difference.
During the international launch of “Unpacked! Plastic, Waste & Me” you mentioned the importance of personal responsibility and consumer consciousness, but you also mentioned that we need politicians who take this issue seriously. What do you expect politicians to do?
I want them to pass certain laws, encourage plastic-free behavior and stop importing plastic waste. They need to install more recycling options, build an effective support system for people to go green, and support indigenous peoples and environmental awareness campaigns at the same time. Not only politicians, but also entrepreneurs or capitalists. It’s time that they must put the environmental impact first and stop strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPPs) or suing environmental journalists.
Even the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), they need to consider sustainability as part of the company too. Those who have power need to take action. Especially after the COVID-19 crisis, they need to focus on the plastic crisis as well, not only on the economy.
How would you like to see Thailand in the future when it comes to consumption and waste management?
I want to see a circular economy come true and with less costs. Having more and more communities for swapping things and have a support system for more recycling and waste separation options that everyone can easily access. Rather than relying on the binmen, we need to make waste separation a habit in order to increase the chance and the likelihood of recyclables actually getting recycled. It’s the responsibility of every household and every individual.
We also need to succeed in normalizing the concept of ‘reuse’ and buy more second-hand stuff. Finally, my personal wish is that every company would be responsible for everything they have put out into the world.
Chompupischaya Saiboonyadis is a student of International Economics and Trade at Sias University and member of the International Youth Advisory Board for the publication “Unpacked! Plastic, Waste & Me”
Interview by Thorsten Volberg, ASEAN Program Manager