Is your life trashier than Miss Universe Thailand? Show us. (Opinion)

Former Miss Universe Thailand Maria Poonlertlarp of SOS Earth wears her waste. Photos: Passakorn Thawatthatree, A Day Bulletin / Courtesy
Former Miss Universe Thailand Maria Poonlertlarp of SOS Earth wears her waste. Photos: Passakorn Thawatthatree, A Day Bulletin / Courtesy

One year ago, disgust with our plastic addiction and the harm it does motivated us to take action. At the street level, that meant youth joining the Climate Strike Thailand rallies which I helped organize. Retail and government coordinated on a partial plastic bag ban.

But all that momentum was lost to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Consumption exploded with increased demand for disposable medical supplies, while closed restaurants and staying home meant more food delivery than ever. That translated into plastic waste increasing over 400% by April.

Now that we’ve got the virus under control, it’s time to return to that other existential threat. Thailand prevailed against COVID-19 because we proved we could change our habits to protect ourselves. To bring that same fighting spirit to our wasteful habits, we need to remind people of the stakes.

That’s why, starting tomorrow, everyone is invited to help raise that awareness by joining former Miss Universe Thailand Maria Poonlertlarp of SOS Earth, Tuen (Wild) Channel host Wannasingh Prasertkul and Little Big Green founder Kanatip “Loukgolf” Soonthornrak in saving all the trash they generate as part of the Trash Me Challenge.

For two weeks, they will store all their garbage from plastic and food packaging to recyclables and even food scraps in special outfits created from recycled trash by fashion designers Wishulada Panthanuvong, Pairoj Pichetmetakul and Pathavee Thepkraiwan. All three are required to wear the outfits everywhere they go for the duration of the challenge as they vlog their journeys.

Everyone is encouraged to join the challenge by picking a team (#TeamMaria, #TeamLG or #TeamWannaSingh), saving their own trash (storing it wherever preferred) and sharing photos of it on their social media platforms with the hashtags #TrashMeChallenge, #YouAreWhatYouTrash and #EUCanalCleanupDay.

Participants will also be encouraged to analyze their waste through surveys, created by researchers from Mahidol and Chulalongkorn universities. With the data, they can better understand their waste and pledge to consume more consciously while urging corporations to make necessary changes.

“We must know what trash we create before we can demand from corporations and governments,” said Maria Poonlertlarp, who initiated the campaign. “And that’s how the TrashMe campaign came to life.”

Thailand is one of the world’s top five producers of plastic ocean debris. Overall, Thais produce about 1.1 kilograms of solid waste every day, which goes up to 1.3 kilograms in Bangkok. If the current rate of global waste generation continues, there could be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.

To bring this persistent issue back into the eyes of the public, the three influencers have been keeping their personal garbage since Aug. 1 to illustrate the amount of trash we all accumulate without thought.

On Sept. 14, the last day of the challenge, participants can submit their own masterpieces under the principle of the 8 R’s: refuse, reduce, reuse, refill, repair, regift, recycle, recover. Six winners will be selected according to their impact on provoking their surrounding community on how everyone can contribute to a world with less waste.

Also on the final day of the challenge, all the contenders’ trash will be used to produce new art costumes by the three designers. Selected winners will get to walk in their masterpieces alongside their team leaders in a fashion show at the European Union’s Canal Cleanup Day on Sept. 18. On that day, participants will help clean up the Lat Phrao Canal, visit a waste management center and learn more about waste management policies in order to go home with knowledge to change their communities.

“Reducing your trash seems impossible in this system we live in, but I truly believe that if we pushed for it… organizations would listen,” Maria said. “It’s like the concept in wildlife trade: When the buying stops, the killing can too.”

While the campaign aims to provoke individuals to think twice before they consume and dispose, the public alone cannot save Thailand from drowning in trash. Regardless of how much trash one reduces, we still need better policies–such as improved waste management systems, economic incentives for circular economy products and operations, a ban on waste imports–to create a system which allows all sectors to normalise sustainable consumption and lifestyles.

Lynn Ocharoenchai is a climate activist who, beginning in March 2019, organized the first of several Climate Strike Thailand rallies inspired by the work of Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg. She is now director of storytelling for SOS Earth, a social enterprise that helps crowdfund environmental initiatives in Thailand.

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