How to solve Thailand’s local waste management crisis


Guest contribution by Samonphon Sutthibak

After reading three Isaan Record articles published in November 2018 on air pollution and a waste water problem caused by the Warin Chamrap Municipality landfill and incinerator for infectious waste in Ubon Ratchathani, I can’t help but think that the state and local authorities have failed in waste management.

At present, government agencies and local administrative organizations (LAO) in Thailand are facing a waste management problem. This is linked to an increased amount of waste caused by population growth and socio-economic development.

The lack of proper hygienic waste management has resulted in problems such as germ contamination, intrusive odor, leachate contaminating surface and groundwater, as well as environmental impact on the surrounding areas of landfills.

In many communities around the country, people have opposed the LAOs’ waste management approach.

Plastic waste and a black fluid is discharged into natural swamps around the Warin Chamrap Municipality landfill in Don Pha-ung Village.

In 2016, Thai households recycled only 21.47 percent or 5.81 million tons of the country’s total amount of solid waste (27.06 millions tons). About 0.6 million tons of biodegradable household waste was reused for different purposes.

These figures show clearly that waste management at the source lacks efficiency in the face of the total amount of waste generated. There is potential for the recycling rate to reach more than 50 percent.

The government has made new efforts to issue waste management rules and guidelines for local authorities to follow. In particular, there is an operational framework as part of the community solid waste management plan called “Clean Province” Action Plan (2019). This framework focuses on managing waste at three levels: the source, mid-way, and final destination.

Starting from waste management at the source, this step focuses on reducing and separating solid waste by applying the 3Rs principle: reduce, reuse, and recycle. In the past, the LAO waste management efforts at the source had focused solely on solid waste recycling.

To promote this initiative, various projects were started, such as community garbage bank projects, waste exchange for eggs or household goods, zero waste initiatives and others.

How to improve communities’ waste management. Map by Samanaphon Sutthibak.

Why have the government’s source waste management efforts under the policy, “Develop Self-discipline among People in the Nation for a Sustainable Management,” not reached their goals yet? Looking back at the promotion of 3Rs in waste management at the source, why have we not yet reached a recycling rate of more than 50 percent?

The answer lies in the fact that awareness and discipline in garbage disposal and recycling is still lacking in the majority of people in Thailand because they favour convenience. In comparison, this situation is completely different from Japan

An approach that might make garbage separation at the source more effective can be divided into two parts:

1.Creating Incentives: In semi-rural social groups, garbage banks and garbage exchanges for eggs and household goods are proven approaches that create a win-win situation. But for urban groups which do not have time to participate in garbage banks or exchange activities, the LAO has to set up its own garbage collection system by determining the date of recycle collection and calculate its value in terms of money. The money can then be transferred in a cash-back system to the garbage owner. This type of operation is called “Buy-Back Center,” or income generated from selling recyclables for local development. This can practically be operated and monitored by the government and LAO.

2. Enforcement of the Polluter-Pays Principle (PPP): Any household that produces large amounts of garbage without sorting and does not participate in reducing waste at the source must pay for waste collection and disposal. The costs can be calculated according to the weight of the waste generated each month. However, the LAO must come up with a management model that can assess the generated amount of waste and set a schedule to collect the waste.

In addition, instead of using the number of projects and the number of participating households or people as success indicators for waste management at-the-source initiatives, quantitative indicators that reflect the amount of reduced waste–for example based on the recycling or utilization rates–should be used.

This is because participation in these projects does not reflect the actual amount of waste that has been recycled.

However, the participation rate is an appropriate indicator in the beginning of the project when it requires people to join in and recognize the problems of waste management in their own communities.

For mid-way waste management, efforts should focus on improving the

LAO’s efficiency of solid waste collection. Currently different types of garbage are transported without separation in the same trucks.

For at-destination ​​waste management (end-of-pipe), the ongoing crisis was born out of the common transformation of sanitary landfills into open dumps. State budgets were provided only for the construction of sanitary landfills but local governments often did not allocate budget for the proper operation and maintenance of the system.

For this reason, the construction of landfills has always met public opposition because people lack confidence in the management capabilities and efficiency of the local government.

This issue can be addressed by a policy aiming to improve the quality control of landfills and establish operational practices in accordance with hygienic standards. Another approach is to transform waste into energy by using accumulated waste and converting it into a fuel, known as the Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) process.

However, the success of these approaches relies on the degree of waste separation from the source to final destination level and the management efficiency of the LAO.

Waste-to-energy power plants will pose considerable challenges to LAOs in terms of management, in regards both to operations and to the maintenance of technology and machinery. Other problems include air pollution caused by the power plant and the selection of suitable garbage.

A possible solution to address these challenges is to allow the private sector to operate the power plants based on an agreement to determine the cost per amount of waste managed (baht/ton). It could also take the form of a joint investment between the public and private sectors in order to achieve efficient and sustainable end-of-pipe waste management.


Assistant Professor Samonphon Sutthibak teaches Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Faculty of Science and Engineering, Kasetsart University – Sakon Nakhon Campus. Her research focuses on community’s waste management and she is currently a member of a research team looking at how striped fly worms can play a role in organic waste treatment.

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