How does waste separation work in Bangkok?

When walking along a street in Bangkok, many may have witnessed trash collection underway and some might wonder whether separation and sorting of waste really works.

The sight of unsorted trash piled up and collectors putting everything together in a large compartment at the back of the garbage truck might discourage some from self-sorting their waste.

The misleading and discouraging sight turns out, however, to be just one of the many steps in waste sorting by the collection staff.

Following Bangkok’s trash collection process, it is clear that major efforts are being made to sort the city’s waste.

“The unsorted waste collected will be put in the rear compartment. That which is already sorted by the households will be kept in another compartment, at the front. There is a dedicated compartment there, as well as one for hazardous waste,” assistant public cleansing officer Sansak Prasatsilp told Thai PBS World. “For waste which is unsorted by households, our staff will do it.”

Putting all the mixed waste into the large compartment gives them space to examine everything more thoroughly, so they can sort it. Plastic, glass, paper and other recyclable materials are put together into separate bags. So is the hazardous waste.

The general and the compostable waste, meanwhile, are the tricky parts of the process. Most of the time, they are unsorted and mixed together by the households.

The assistant cleansing officer explained that there are four types of waste, namely compostable, recyclable, general and hazardous. The first two account for 50% and 30% respectively of all the waste, meaning that, if they are properly segregated by households, only 20% is left for landfill and incineration.

The problem facing Bangkok is that a lot of compostable waste is mixed with general waste, increasing the cost of waste management, which is avoidable.

In places where compostable waste is more prevalent, such as in markets and restaurants, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) tries to make sure that the waste goes to the right place. For example, in a market, a receptacle is usually provided specifically for compostable waste, like fruit and vegetables.

For school canteens, hotels and restaurants, the BMA also helps connect them with farmers, who use the waste to produce fertilisers and animal feed. Other waste collected then goes to the disposal plant in Bangkok. It will be sorted again for handling, be it for recycling, landfill or incineration.

“Waste sorting helps to reduce the amount of waste that needs managing. It helps the BMA to save money,” said Sansak. “If people would cooperate by sorting it, our work could be done faster.”

Asked whether it helps when the BMA staff sort it themselves, the assistant cleansing officer said it is still difficult. Everything is mixed together. It is easiest if you do it at home first.

Chalanlak Chanwanpen, Thai PBS World

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