The Other Side of Paradise - the Sad Reality of Plastic on Koh Phangan

I recently took a much-needed break to Koh Phangan. To be honest, I have no idea why I don’t do this stuff more often as I spend a lot of my time in Thailand and so little of it by the sea. I decided to leave my laptop at home in Chiang Mai and only take my camera.

But boy am I glad I took my camera…

I was absolutely shocked at what I found there. I have been becoming increasingly aware of the huge scale of the plastic problem on my travels. What happened next took it to the next level.

Before I even made it to the island, I came across a lot of plastic waste at the ferry pier. I took these photos, and I resolved to look more into the problem when I reached my destination.

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I set the intention to create some photo and/or video to document the problem and looked to connect with others on the island who were getting involved.

Within minutes I had connected with Valerie Low of Valow. Valerie is on a mission to raise awareness of the plastic problem and provide sustainable alternatives to single use plastics. Together, we went to visit one of the island's main waste sites. We were awe-struck with the scale of the place and its 20,000 tonnes of waste; and even more so by the fact that at least 10 tonnes of plastic waste was being shipped there daily.

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We also visited Alex Vlasich from Austria, who is setting up a waste-sorting facility nearby. He was visibly upset by the extent of the problem and the myriad struggles he has encountered trying to tackle it. Thailand alone has created two million tonnes of plastic waste annually for the past decade, and the country is only the world’s 6th biggest contributor to the problem.

Trash Heroes

We also joined a beach cleanup which was run by Trash Hero Koh Phangan. Trash Hero works to bring communities together to clean and reduce waste through action and awareness, education, sustainable projects and inspiration. Trash Hero is just one such volunteer-led organisation which makes a huge positive impact on their local communities. I couldn't recommend more highly getting involved with this amazing community.

The volume of plastic and glass waste that we encountered was so astounding that we almost gave up, feeling completely powerless in the face of the problem. We didn't - of course - but it is easy to understand why people think that their input cannot make any real different to a problem that is this big.

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Our message is this:

However small an action in the right direction might seem to be, take it anyway. Carry a reusable water bottle. Use canvas totes for shopping. Say no to plastic straws and plastic bags. If you see rubbish lying around, pick it up. The problem is undeniably a mammoth one, but all of these things really do help.

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Srithanu, Koh Phangan