Sun, Aug 19, 2018 - Page 15 News List

Thai hotels, resorts band together against plastics

By Michael Taylor  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, KUALA LUMPUR

For the millions of sun-seekers who head to Thailand’s resort island of Phuket each year in search of stunning beaches and clear waters, cutting down on waste might not be a top priority.

However, the island’s hotel association is hoping to change that with a series of initiatives aimed at reducing the use of plastic, tackling the garbage that washes up on its shores and educating staff, local communities and tourists alike.

“Hotels unchecked are huge consumers and users of single-use plastics,” said Anthony Lark, president of the Phuket Hotels Association and managing director of the Trisara resort.

“Every resort in Southeast Asia has a plastic problem. Until we all make a change, it’s going to get worse and worse,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Established in 2016 and with about 70 members — including all Phuket’s five-star hotels — the association has put tackling environmental issues high on its to-do list.

Last year, the group surveyed members’ plastics use and then began looking at ways to shrink their plastics footprint.

As part of this, three months ago the association’s hotels committed to phase out, or put plans in place to stop using plastic water bottles and plastic drinking straws by next year.

About five years ago, Lark’s own resort of about 40 villas used to dump into landfills about 250,000 plastic water bottles annually. It has now switched to reusable glass bottles.

The association also teamed up with the makers of the documentary A Plastic Ocean and now show an edited version with Thai subtitles for staff training.

Meanwhile, hotel employees and local schoolchildren take part in regular beach clean-ups.

“The association is involved in good and inclusive community-based action, rather than just hotel general managers getting together for a drink,” Lark said.

Phuket, like Bali in Indonesia and Boracay in the Philippines, has become a top holiday destination in Southeast Asia — and faces similar challenges.

Of a similar size to Singapore and at the geographical heart of Southeast Asia, Phuket is easily accessible to tourists from China, India, Malaysia and Australia.

With its white sandy beaches and infamous nightlife, Phuket attracts about 10 million visitors each year, according to media reports, helping make the Thai tourism industry one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lackluster economy.

Popular with vacationers and retirees, Phuket — like many other Southeast Asian resorts — must contend with traffic congestion, poor water management and patchy waste collection services.

Despite these persistent problems, hotels in the region need to follow Phuket’s lead and step up action to cut their dependence on plastics, US-based nonprofit Ocean Conservancy managing director Susan Ruffo said.

Worldwide, between 8 million and 15 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, the UN Environment Programme has said.

Five Asian countries — China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand — account for up to 60 percent of plastic waste leaking into the seas, an Ocean Conservancy study found.

“As both creators and ‘victims’ of waste, the hotel industry has a lot to gain by making efforts to control their own waste and helping their guests do the same,” Ruffo said.

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