Phuket hotels shun plastic

Michael Taylor –

For the millions of sun seekers who head to Thailand’s resort island of Phuket each year in search of stunning beaches and clear waters, cutting down on waste may not be a top priority. But the island’s hotel association is hoping to change that with a series of initiatives aimed at reducing the use of plastic, tackling the garbage that washes up on its shores, and educating staff, local communities and tourists alike. “Hotels unchecked are huge consumers and users of single-use plastics,” said Anthony Lark, president of the Phuket Hotels Association and managing director of the Trisara resort.
“Every resort in Southeast Asia has a plastic problem. Until we all make a change, it’s going to get worse and worse,” he said.
Established in 2016 and with about 70 members — including all Phuket’s five-star hotels — the association has put tackling environmental issues high on its to-do list. Last year the group surveyed members’ plastics use and then began looking at ways to shrink their plastics footprint.
As part of this, three months ago the association’s hotels committed to phase out, or put plans in place to stop using plastic water bottles and plastic drinking straws by 2019.
About five years ago, Lark’s own resort with about 40 villas used to dump into landfill about 250,000 plastic water bottles annually.
It has now switched to reusable glass bottles.
The hotel association also teamed up with the documentary makers of “A Plastic Ocean”, and now show an edited version with Thai subtitles for staff training.
Meanwhile, hotel employees and local schoolchildren take part in regular beach clean-ups.
“The association is involved in good and inclusive community-based action, rather than just hotel general managers getting together for a drink,” Lark said.
Phuket, like Bali in Indonesia and Boracay in the Philippines, has become a top holiday destination in Southeast Asia — and faces similar challenges.
Of a similar size to Singapore and at the geographical heart of Southeast Asia, Phuket is easily accessible to tourists from China, India, Malaysia and Australia.
With its white sandy beaches and infamous nightlife, Phuket attracts about 10 million visitors each year, media reports say, helping make the Thai tourism industry one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lacklustre economy. Popular with holiday makers and retirees, Phuket — like many other Southeast Asian resorts — must contend with traffic congestion, poor water management and patchy waste collection services.
Despite these persistent problems, hotels in the region need to follow Phuket’s lead and step up action to cut their dependence on plastics, said Susan Ruffo, managing director at the US-based non-profit group Ocean Conservancy.
Worldwide, between 8 million and 15 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, UN Environment says.
Five Asian countries — China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand — account for up to 60 per cent of plastic waste leaking into the seas, an Ocean Conservancy study found.
In the past, the hospitality industry has looked at how to use less water and energy, said Von Hernandez, global coordinator at the “Break Free From Plastic” movement in Manila.
Now hotels are turning their attention to single-use plastics amid growing public awareness about damage to oceans.
Hotels should look at providing reusable water containers and refill stations, giving guests metal or bamboo drinking straws and bamboo toothbrushes, and replacing single-use soap and shampoo containers with refillable dispensers, experts said.
Back in Phuket, the hotel association is exploring ways to cut plastic waste further, and will host its first regional forum on environmental awareness next month.
The hope is that what the group has learned over the last two years can be implemented at other Southeast Asian resorts and across the wider community.
— Thomson Reuters Foundation