Can EPR policy help tackle waste pollution in Thailand?

the "EPR" principle

What is EPR?

EPR or Extended Producer Responsibility is a policy framework that holds the producers and brands accountable for the environmental impact their products create throughout the entire product life cycle. A product life cycle spans from resource extraction, product design, manufacturing, and distribution, to disposal at the end of life of the product.

Success case in Germany

The EPR principle was first used in Germany in 1991, whereby the law requires manufacturers to use environmentally friendly packaging that is easy to recycle. Manufacturers must minimize the amount of material used to produce packaging or utilize reusable packaging. Thus, reducing the amount of waste generated. Also, manufacturers have to pay a fee to join the Duales System Deutschland (DSD) organization to earn a “Green Dot” for their products. Consumers can then choose to purchase products that meet the government’s EPR policy.

Success comes from government austerity

The policy push by the government helped Germany recycle more than 65% of its packaging. The EPR framework also gave birth to the bottle-deposit scheme that requires consumers to pay a deposit when they purchase bottled beverages. The deposit is refunded when consumers return the used bottles for recycling. The scheme helped increase the recycling rate of plastic bottles to over 95%!

EPR policy in Thailand

EPR principles are included in Thailand’s Plastic Waste Management Plan for 2019-2030 and in the Action Plan on Plastic Waste Management Phase 1 (2020-2022). However, the country still has a long way to go in adopting the EPR framework.

While there are policies on collecting and managing waste, local municipalities have struggled to enforce and execute them. Challenges include inefficiency and insufficient resources to collect waste from highly populated communities located in remote areas, small alleyways, or along the Bangkok canals.

Currently, the majority of the public does not sort their waste and the municipality garbage trucks collect all types of waste at once. During their downtime, the workers scavenge through the mixed waste for high-value recyclables that can be sold for extra income. Low-value recyclables are discarded and sent to landfills.

How should Thailand implement EPR?

EPR is still on a voluntary basis in Thailand. It is up to the producers and brands to take action. Many global brands that are present in Thailand are now increasing CSR campaigns around sustainability and trying to switch to environmentally-friendly packaging. Thai people are also becoming more aware of the environmental issues caused by plastic and other types of packaging.

According to a study by the Environmental Research Institute of Chulalongkorn University, one way to make EPR successful is for the Thai government to require producers to pay an “EPR fee”. The amount of the fee is determined by the level of difficulty in recycling the product packaging. The goal is to incentivize producers and brands to use environmentally and recycling-friendly materials.

In addition, the government should provide tax breaks for brands that participate in EPR activities and encourage retailers to set up drop-off points to encourage consumers to return used packaging that is recyclable.

Recognizing informal waste collectors or “saleng” as formal workers and providing them with welfare benefits can also help support the recycling ecosystem. The Thai government should encourage “junk shops” to have a welcoming storefront for the general public and to accurately report the amount of waste traded. If the government defines the appropriate zoning for junk shops by locating them within a reasonable distance from residential areas, people will be able to recycle more conveniently.

Everyone must work together

All stakeholders must work together for the EPR to be successful in Thailand. The government should issue and strictly enforce EPR policies. Brands and manufacturers should design out unnecessary plastics and ensure their product packaging is collected and recycled. Consumers should sort and manage their waste properly.

While the EPR policy is still developing in Thailand, everyone can help protect the environment by reducing, reusing, and recycling.

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