Obsessions with Plastic

Rice treats, Bangkok

Folks, we’re swimming in plastic—literally. We human beings have produced so many plastic bags and plastic gadgets, we’ve tossed so many plastic containers and plastic wraps onto the ground and into the sea, the stuff is turning up in every place it shouldn’t be (look at the contents of these poor creatures’ stomachs).

Some cultures are saying, No More! Vendors are quitting the bag habit, and governments are forcing users to pay. (Meanwhile, some bloggers are taking note of exceptional places that never got caught in the craze.) My post on Thailand’s plastic attack is scheduled to run today in Food Culture on The Faster Times. Have a look at the story and take a photographic trip (below) through Thailand and India, side by side. Notice the contrast?

Fresh fruit, leaf cups, Kolkata

Market vegetables, Bangkok

Bengali sweets, cardboard box, Kolkata

Street snacks, Bangkok

Crispy rice, paper wrapping, Darjeeling

Tea cups, terracotta, Kolkata

5 thoughts on “Obsessions with Plastic

  1. We noticed the abundance of plastic in Thailand, as well, especially after our stay in India where most snacks are served in newspaper cones. Surprisingly, Thailand is SO clean whereas much of India looks like a trash dump. Of course, corruption (and union mischief) in India plays a large part in the lack of trash service but we were absolutely stunned when we came to Thailand and saw the cleanliness of the country.

  2. I also get peeved at plastic. Here in Japan, they used to triple bag everything fresh in combinations of paper and plastic. Now they’re being more “careful” (some grocery store charge per plastic bag), but it’s hardly noticeable. Most stores just hand out fewer bags. We’re in the process of moving, and we can’t even sell most of our used electronics to second hand stores, because they’re more than 3 years old. We have some nice electronic items, not to mention furniture, that we simply have to throw away. (Some appliances will end up for sale in places like Phnom Penh, as you know.)

    I really hate to imagine all my garbage being burned, but at least in Japan I know it’s being disposed of efficiently (although I wonder how much garbage Japan dumps in the ocean).

    When I’m in Cambodia, I cringe about every little thing that I throw out, because I know it’s going to be dumped in the ground and buried. At least, I suppose, that’s better than being dumped in the ocean.

    One last thought, the amount of plastic may depend on how items get to market. If the items are prepared in various places then transported by a combination of motorcycles and vans to market, then maybe the plastic is needed…?

  3. I had to write more after reading the article.

    First, I was reminded of walking with a monk in Thailand one morning 3 years ago. All the food he received was in plastic baggies.

    Second, when the burn plastic in Tokyo using high tech furnaces, it still emits poison gases. The net effect of millions of small, inefficient fires burning plastic must be unspeakable.

  4. vt, Thanks for the link – what a great book. I’ll have to check that out. Years ago I had a homestay in Japan through a sister city project. I remember many of the gift exchanges, in which so many traditional and homemade wrappings were used.

    Akila, I agree: much of India is dangerously filthy (though we did find Sikkim to be an exception). For the most part, Thailand is much cleaner. Then again, even though our neighborhood in Chiang Mai had access to cheap trash service, people (and businesses) tossed their garbage on the roadside and in empty fields, where it piled up until someone set the whole thing on fire. This always seemed to happen right around “cocktail hour” as we tried to watch the sunset over Doi Suthep. Our entire condo filled with the sickly stench of burning plastic.

    Andy, triple bagging is a problem in so many places. Sometimes I have to fight with vendors to allow me to take something home bagless (that happens in Phnom Penh, Bangkok, even Albuquerque). Interestingly, last week we watched busloads and boatloads of Thai items making their way eastward across northern Laos while Vietnamese items went the other direction (so many noodles crossing paths). Yet very little plastic was involved in that transportation! Mostly boxes, crates, baskets. Go figure.

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