Sustainably Yours: Building a Sustainable Phuket
Last week, in part 1 of this special report, we talked about improving environmental education, public transport, creating spaces for walking and adding wind and solar energy to build a sustainable Phuket. This week we’re talking about fixing the food system, improving waste management and job skills.
Fix the food system
A study by the Food and Land Use Coalition estimates that when you add up all the negative externalities, including excessive water use, agrochemical damage, soil loss, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, and care health, our current agricultural system causes 12 trillion US dollars damage per year. If we don’t radically reform our diets and our global food production system, no matter how many solar panels or wind turbines we install, they won’t be enough to create a sustainable world.
Excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers is likely to be at least one contributing factor to the recent and recurring algae bloom that we see in Phuket. In addition to eating less meat and switching to a plant-based dietwe can help reduce our impact by composting our organic waste, reducing the need for pesticides and fertilizers and improving soil quality. To encourage people to compost, Prince of Songkla University sells inexpensive bins and teaches communities how to use them.
To replace the destructive fishing industry, we can create seaweed and shellfish farms that filter and clean the water as they did in new York and other parts of East Coast the United States. We could also build rooftop farms that localize food production and cool the building, reducing air conditioning costs.
For now, you can help support local farmers by purchasing Phuket Farmers Clubwhich uses a network of small farms, which ensures that your food is not treated with agrochemicals.
Reduce plastic waste
We could start by reducing the use of single-use bottles by promoting the use of water filters at home and in restaurants. In London, San Franciscoand parts of Southern California they began to install water fountains in parks, schools and other places.
We could do that in Phuket, but instead of installing expensive water fountains, we can get restaurants and businesses to install filters on their taps to act as refill stations. We could create a mobile app with their GPS location. In return, they get free publicity and foot traffic from thirsty potential customers who want to refill their water bottles.
Some people believe that water that is not sealed in a plastic bottle is unhygienic, but the opposite is true. According to the WHO, 93% of bottled water carries microplastics, including top brands. A study of Environmental Working Group reveals that bottled water is often contaminated with chemicals, including disinfectants, fertilizer residues and painkillers. Furthermore, a study of Institute of Global Health claims that the impact on natural resources is up to 3,500 times greater than that of filtered tap water.
One way to encourage people to recycle more is to use Incentive Reverse Vending Machine. Norway uses them and has a 97%+ plastic bottle recycling rate (world average is 9%). You simply take your bottles back to the machines, which could be placed in local stores such as Villa Market and you are paid in baht.
We could reduce plastic bag waste by creating educational campaigns to encourage people to reuse them when shopping. We could also replace them entirely by forcing suppliers to use bioplastic bags made from plastic-free cassava and compostable at home.
Better waste management
Phuket can currently handle approx. 700 tons of waste per day, but it produces around 850 tons per day. In a normal year during peak season, this can pull up to 1,000 tons. In 2002 San Francisco made composting and recycling mandatory, by 2008 it had reduced its waste by 75% and now recovers approximately 80% of its waste, which is diverted from landfill or incinerator.
While Phuket may lack the financial resources of San Francisco, there are still things we can do to help reduce our waste streams. For example, most neighborhoods have local collectors who come and bring metal cans, plastic, and glass to recycling centers around the island for cash. You can help them by sorting your waste and leaving it near the bins for them. Not only will this reduce waste, but it will also make their lives easier. We can also compost our organic waste, which can reduce our waste by 50-60%.
Skills and Jobs
The Thai government recently announced a 10 year visa to attract highly skilled professionals such as engineers and computer experts in anticipation of a shortage of technology workers over the next decade. Although not everyone can afford to go to college, there are other ways to transfer skills and knowledge. Creative spaces, like MIT FabLab, are places to learn skills, network with other entrepreneurs, build things, and start businesses. They are equipped with 3D printers, computers, robotics labs, laser cutters, CNC machines and even agricultural plots.
If Phuket is to move away from the mass tourism business model, Phuketians, both Thai and foreign, will need to learn new skills outside of the hospitality industry. Electronics, 3D modeling and design, Agriculture, data compilation and analysis, robotics, content creation, programming, critical thinking and problem solving are all skills that will be needed in the decades to come. The small, once war-torn country of Rwanda is taking this approach and reinventing its capital from Kigali in an African technology hub. If they can do it, why not us?
The future is coming, whether we like it or not, and we have to decide if we are going to carry on as business as usual or if we want to make Phuket a sustainable place to live. To this end, OnePhuket and the Sustainable MaiKhao Foundation are working for change and will publish upcoming projects.
This article is part 2 of a two-part special report. Read Part 1 posted last week, click here. Palmer Owyoung is an environmental activist who works with the Kamala Green Club and the Global Sustainability Hub.