|Many years ago, the author was addicted to iced coffee in Thailand that was served in a plastic take-away bag with a straw much like our Thai friend is carrying below. In fact, on one occasion in 1975, after an extended liquid martini lunch in the Hilton Hotel in Singapore, we opted for take-away martinis in plastic bags for the lengthy road trip to the airport. That might sound a bit over the top, but if you were flying into Saigon in the spring of that year, you would like all the courage you could find. Fortunately, none of us were driving though some of the Air America pilots flew in similar states of being.
Recently, Dominic Faulder published an article in the Nikkei Asian Review entitled “Asian Plastic is Choking the World’s Oceans.” The leading headline is eighty percent of marine plastic pollution comes from Asia. Numerous tragic deaths of whales and manta rays have raised the awareness of the plastic waste contamination of the world. Whereas, environmentalists are keenly knowledgeable about this situation, most Asian governments continue to ignore it as illustrated below by a river in Cambodia that will eventually flow into the ocean once the rainy season pushes the debris along.
In a 2017 report, Ocean Conservancy found that “Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam dump more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the world combined.” ICUN, or The International Union for Conservation of Nature, found that “more than a quarter of all the world’s marine plastic waste may be pouring in from just ten rivers, eight of them in Asia.”
In the Buriganga river in Dhaka, Bangladesh, children collect plastic bottles which provides them a meager amount of money. If you have never been to Bangladesh, you might find this sort of image incomprehensible.
Southeast Asia has seen some of the fastest economic growth which has translated into the production of plastic with consumption rapidly exceeding the capability of any reasonable waste management program. Much of the waste ends up in massive accumulations such as this one in Bali which is known as a magical vacation getaway.
Americans and Europeans use more plastic per capita than people in Asia. However, they have a greater awareness of recycling and waste disposal practices than most Asians. In Singapore, the average resident uses thirteen plastic bags a day and the entire small city-state uses 2.2 million plastic straws a day. Whereas Thais use eight plastic bags per day, they total 500 million a week in Bangkok alone.
There is a glimmer of light coming through the clouds of Bangkok and it is the use of an edible plant to replace plastic straws. The Chinese water spinach plant which is a popular stir-fried vegetable is now being crafted into an edible straw by the Broccoli Revolution, a chain of vegetarian restaurants which has ceased offering plastic straws. The restaurant buys the plant at the morning market, washes it and trims the stems into straws that can be eaten after the beverage is consumed.
The stems are sufficiently pliable to handle smoothies and strong enough to last for hours while soaking in a drink. If anyone chooses not to pick up a bit of roughage by eating them, they are clearly biodegradable and will not harm any marine life in the ocean. It is easy to imagine them replacing the olive in a martini to represent a healthier and more practical decoration.
Recently in Luang Prabang, Laos, we found bamboo straws in the market which had been crafted by Hmong villagers from the native bamboo.
Therefore, small steps are emerging from some parts of the world that you might not think would have the conservation consciousness of some in the western world. However, more importantly there is hopefully an awareness developing among mankind that care is required to maintain this planet for the next generation. Remember the saying “One does not own a Patek Phillippe time piece but merely looks after it for the next generation.” We must all be mindful that adage is even more important for the world in which we live.