Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Make Plastic Fees - How to avoid plastic in Thailand

Throughout our adventures in Thailand we've been trying our best to do our bit for the environment. Of course cycling everywhere is excellent for our carbon footprint, and it goes without saying that we always take our litter with us and dispose of it properly.

But the biggest challenge, we thought, would be doing away with all the hundreds of plastic bottles we get through each week to keep us hydrated in this tropical heat. That, and plastic bags, because I'm absolutely terrible at saving plastic bags, I always forget to reuse them and there's just no excuse really.

So we've been monitoring the number of plastic bottles and plastic bottles we get through each month, and penalizing ourselves with a 25 baht fine whenever we do - all the proceeds going to Solar Aid, our chosen charity fighting poverty and climate change.

The idea, I suppose, is to get out of some bad habits and show that travelling around in Asia does not have to mean buying heaps of water bottles. Our first month saw us not quite proving this point, since we got through 7 plastic bags and 25 plastic bottles. So, how did we do over the last two months?

Bottles: 6
Bags: 7

That's £6.50 on it's way to Solar Aid. Most of the plastic bags here came from forgetting to pocket some when we went shopping, and one of the plastic bottles came from when I lost both of my water bottles in the space of a few days, and had to buy a plastic water bottle to act as a replacement until we found a bike shop.

Bottles: 0
Bags: 10

Well, on my birthday in Sukhothai we were absolutely terrible, continually going out and getting pad thai takeaway without bringing our own plastic bags to carry it back in. £5 to the charity.

But we absolutely aced it with water bottles, didn't use a single one. What a relief for our wallets, but it's even better knowing that it can be done, and honestly, it wasn't that hard. Here's how we managed it...

Nam Tan: Pretty much every business in Thailand has a pile of 20l water tanks stashed around the back, called "Nam Tan" in Thai. Don't feel bad about asking for free water, it's extremely cheap. The government come round weekly to recycle and refresh the old ones at the price of about 10-15baht each tank. That's about 1.3 baht per litre, the equivalent of 2p. If someone does ask you to pay for a top up, remember that filling your 10l drom bag is only costing them about 7 baht, so don't go paying crazy amounts. That said, we've never been asked to pay for it, but sometimes in tourist areas they will deny having any, in the hope that you'll buy a bottle instead.

Clean water dispensers: In some of the larger towns you are very likely to come across water dispensers in the street. They are tall rectangular boxes, a little like office coffee and tea dispensers, and can save you a packet on water. The price varied, but was never more than 2 baht per litre, and went down as low as 0.5 - that's about twenty times cheaper than buying a plastic bottle. Just slot in a few coins, open the little door that houses the nozzle, press the green button and fill your bottle up! Press the green button again to pause the flow while you swap bottles so you don't waste any.

They're not everywhere, but we found them in the following towns - there were almost certainly more in other places that we just didn't see. I'm almost certain that any large city will have them, just have a look around when you're strolling.

Kanchanaburi: Between the tourist street of bars and the war cemetery, tucked away on the road immediately behind the (excellent) Railway Museum.
Mae Sot: On the western road out of town heading to the border, on the right before the bike shop. Maybe 5 - 10 minute walk from the center of town.
Mae Sariang: Opposite the morning market.
Chiang Mai: There are several scattered within the old city walls.
Ayutthaya: On the south end of the tourist area, close to the bus station.

Water purification tablets / pump: Haven't needed to purify our water once. It's so easy to get hold of clean, cheap water once you know where to look.

If anyone has any other tips, or can tell us where to find more of these water dispensers then please leave a comment so we can update the list.

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