From Waste to Value

 |  August 31, 2009

Decorate you kid’s room with newspaper furniture, wear a factory waste handbag on your arm when you go out on a shopping spree, or store your dirty clothes in a laundry basket made by surplus rubber from flip flop production! This is what, ‘Chiang Mai Green Product” is trying to convince you is an excellent idea. And it is hard to disagree with them.

Researcher from the Social Research Institute at Chiang Mai University, Duongchan A. Charoenmuang, Ph.D., is the driving force behind an innovative project that commenced in 2007. In a joint venture between several villages, factory owners and two faculties at Chiang Mai University, waste material, such as rubber, plastic and bamboo, is turned into utility items.
Duongchan wanted to lessen the problematic air pollution in Chiang Mai. The city frequently experiences hazes caused by the burning of waste materials such as the above mentioned materials. The great mass of airborne particles from burning has shown to cause asthma, hearth disease and cancer.

“Chiang Mai is located in a valley and the particles from burning fields and waste is kept from rising by Chinese cold air torrents, the result is massive urban air pollution. It is like a smoke filled pan with a lid,” she explains.

Improvement through creativity

To keep the local villagers from using the left over materials as fuel for cooking and other purposes, Duongchan has motivated them to make use of their renowned handicraft skills and create products for sale such as bags, baskets and bookends from the waste products. Duongchan and her team arranged information meetings and workshops, where they taught the villagers how to organise and carry out the production. It has turned into a success story; last year the burning was reduced by a whopping 46%. The long term goal however is zero burning. Even though this might appear to be a somewhat farfetched goal, the founder of the project believes in its realisation.

“It is a brand new paradigm for air pollution management. Rubbish is turned into absolutely beautiful things. It is a win win-situation,” Duongchan comments.

She has faith in the project and believes that clean, non-harmful air in her city is within reach. Even despite the fact that other sources of pollution, such as car and factory exhaust fumes also have to be handled.

Recycling is not the solution

Duongchan has been campaigning for a sharper focus on Chiang Mai air pollution for 17 years. During this period she has been trying to raise awareness on the problem and create a pollution mitigation project that would appeal to citizens in Chiang Mai. The classical concept of ‘recycling’ was not an option. She stresses the difference between recycling and the total use of already produced materials:

“When you recycle, you have to reprocess the material which often involves chemicals and heating. During this process, there is a connected C02-emission. However when you utilise the products as they are, there is no further pollution and hence the benefits are greater.”

Through the handicraft skills of the involved villagers air quality is better and global warming combated, but there are also benefits of at different nature. Through the selling of the produced goods, the villagers have gotten a new source of income – which is greatly needed. They keep all the profit from sales which helps elevate their living standards. At this point, they have signed a contract with a local spa that uses their grass baskets for gift boxes. In the future they hope to find other regular costumers. If you want to support the villagers in their efforts, you can purchase the merchandise from ‘Chiang Mai Green Product’ in JJ Marked or contact the Social Research Institute, Chiang Mai University. Tel: 053 942 566. Email: Donations are accepted.