On Every Street

 |  September 4, 2018

We live in Chiang Mai one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with the most beautiful culture, the most beautiful people, amazing food and so much more. Yet, looking around, on every street, trash, rubbish, garbage laying there everywhere. Straws, one use plastic bottles, plastic cups, glass bottles, cigarette butts and plastic bags strewn on every street.

I have been a lover of Chiang Mai since I moved here, many years ago. I love to tell everyone how special Chiang Mai is, but I am not the only one! In his TEDx talk, “Life is Easy”, Jon Jandai, tells of his experience about Chiang Mai being so blessed since moving here. So far, over 6 million people have watched this talk!

Chiang Mai is home to around two million people with around 200,000 people choosing to move here every year and is visited by around 10 million tourists also. We have some growing pains to deal with.

One of the most evident problems is waste. Citylife’s article Wasting Away [October 2017] explains some of the efforts by the municipality and government departments to address this waste issue.

Is it enough? No.

Every day the municipality’s hardworking street sweepers fight a never ending battle with the trash thrown and left around Chiang Mai’s moat area. However, there is only so much that 50 people can do.

Is it enough? No.

Another group of concerned residents and visitors, each month, clean Chiang Mai. They are the Trash Heroes. They educate students, have water bottle programs and spend a morning cleaning areas like Doi Suthep, Huay Tung Tao, Obkhan National Parks, the Old City and other areas. Again, how much can 40 people do in three hours each month? It’s a lot but not much in the big scheme of things. 15 cleans, 355 volunteers, about 1000 people hours total and approximately 12,000 kilograms of trash removed.

Is it enough? No.

“The Last Straw” has begun a campaign with Chiang Mai’s cafe, restaurant and entertainment venues to curb the use of straws by not automatically giving customers straws. It’s a fantastic initiative of North Gate Jazz Club’s, Pharadon “Opor” Phonamnuai. They estimate 100,000 plastic cups and straws are used and thrown away every day. The yearly cost of purchasing these plastic cups is around 12,000,000 baht, but we don’t know how much to dispose of this mass of waste plastic!

100,000 plastic cups and straws are used and thrown away every day.

Khun Opor is asking these businesses to give discounts for customers using their own reusable cups and bottles, and make a small donation to “The Last Straw” campaign for projects around reducing plastic waste.

Is it enough? No.

TEDxChiangMai’s and the Le Meridien’s efforts to be a zero waste event, have been preeminent and welcomed in the TED Community, with many TEDx events around the world following their lead.

Is it enough? No.

Our city has been named a UNESCO Creative City (October 2017) and preparing to be World Heritage Listed as well. How great would it be to be known as Chiang Mai Clean City? Singapore is a perfect example of everyone knowing about their standards for cleanliness.

The Blame

Chiang Mai has few trash cans or rubbish bins. Yes! We don’t know why municipality areas have no bins and that would be one of the main issues that need to be addressed moving forward. This is part of the problem, but with a little effort personally, this can be overcome. You can pop your trash in your pocket or bag until you find a suitable place to dispose of it.

Prime Minister’s speech on cleaning up Thailand

Who knows if having hundreds of bins located everywhere around the city solve the rubbish problem? It’s hard to say! It would require a lot of money firstly to implement the infrastructure of designing and placing bins. Do we use standard bins for all rubbish or the separated recycling bins? Who will pay for the collection? Will recycling systems be understood and used correctly?

These are some of the many questions we need to think about before spending millions of baht on waste management and disposal systems for Chiang Mai. The real expense is not in the initial implementation but in the ongoing collection of the waste.

Looking around Chiang Mai you seem to notice waste of different types in different places, the market areas generally have lots of plastic containers and wood skewers and all types of foods and sauces filling the rubbish bins. The walking street markets are similar, but we also find lots of packing materials and general waste.

One very disappointing observation is the number of cigarette butts around Chiang Mai. Usually you do not see too many people smoking on the streets but you can always find hundreds of cigarettes all over the streets. However, in areas where songtaews are normally waiting, the numbers of cigarette butts increases dramatically. We need to reduce these butts being dropped in these locations! That will involve songtaew drivers being more responsible with the cigarette butts.

It’s so depressing to see almost every piece of vacant land in Chiang Mai covered ingloriously with trash. Why does everyone think this land is the local dump? It’s what we are used to doing, we take pride in keeping our little piece of Thailand meticulously maintained, but just next door is trash piled up to the ceiling, and it doesn’t bother us.

Every community will have land like this to deal with and it is also a problem around building sites with large amounts of trash left behind after building completion.

The lingering question really is, “Are we ok to have this trash around Chiang Mai?” I hope not, so there is a team doing something about it!

The Clean Up

The Chiang Mai Clean City Event on 15th September will be attempting to see 500,000 Chiang Mai people, interested groups, Rotary Clubs, schools, universities and Government departments joining together to see Chiang Mai become beautiful again. The idea is for local communities to join and clean up their own areas, inviting neighbors and friends along the way, because cleaning up is more fun with friends. There is so much to do, so get your group together for this fantastic initiative.

We are using a social media campaign to create awareness about this event, so when you are invited, please join the event, share the event and most importantly invite friends to join the fun.

Please use these hashtags when posting about the event!

#chiangmaicleancity #cmcleancity #เชียงใหม่เมืองสะอาด

If you can record a short video encouraging friends to join the event it would help us reach the whole city.

Click here for more information about the event.

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Trash Hero Cleaning Chiang Mai Old City