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Say No to Plastic Bags

Posted by Claudio on March 30, 2012 in Living in Thailand |

The people of Thailand are some of the heaviest users of plastic bags. And it is showing. You can see discarded plastic bags pretty much everywhere: in the cities, in the country, on beaches, and in rivers and the sea. It’s almost an unwritten rule that whenever you buy something in Thailand, you’ll get it in a plastic bag.

A Big User of Plastic Bags – 7-Eleven

7-Eleven: One of the Biggest Users of Plastic Bags

Take 7/11 for example. This is one very successful business in Thailand. At this moment, there are roughly 6,500 7/11 stores in Thailand, about the same number that you find in the United States. The predicted growth will put this number above 7,000 stores by 2013.

Now, let’s assume each of these 7/11 stores conducts 1 transaction per minute. This is a very conservative guess. If you’ve ever been to Thailand, you probably noticed that there are some stores with 3 or more points of sale, each doing about 2 transactions every minute. But lets stay with an average of 1 transaction per store for simplicity’s sake. That would be 60 transactions per hour and 1,440 transactions per day. In a year, that total comes to 525,600 transactions. Now multiply this number to count in all 7,000 stores and you’ll get 3,679,200,000 transactions per year.

That’s 3.7 billion (!) transactions per year. That’s certainly great news for 7/11, but hardly for the environment. You see, the staff at 7/11 automatically puts your purchase into a plastic bag, even if you just buy a can of soda or a pack of chewing gum. They automatically reach for the dreaded plastic bag, unless you tell them that you don’t want one. In my very conservative calculation, that’s almost 3.7 billion plastic bags! Chances are, the number of plastic bags used by 7/11 is several-fold though.

While researching for this post, I found a rather informative Prezi online. Seems I’m not the only one that views 7/11 as a big source of the problem, while at the same time thinking they could use their power to initiate change on a large scale.

Don’t hold your breath while waiting for a giant like 7/11 to proactively tackle the problem though. Start on a small level; start with you. Whenever you go shopping, (not just at 7/11, but also in your local market) tell the clerk behind the counter “Mai ao thung” (ไม่ เอา ถุง) and you will save the environment from one more plastic bag floating around.

What do you think about the excessive use of plastic bags in Thailand? Join the discussion below.

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7 Comments

  • Catherine says:

    Excellent post Claudio. I often refuse bags from small stores such as 7 or when I’m shopping in department stores. What I’ve yet to do is take my own bags to grocery stores… Thank you for the reminder.

  • Rachel says:

    I’ve actually noticed my local Tesco Lotus asking lately if I want plastic bags or do I want my own. A very nice surprise :)

    • Claudio says:

      That’s very cool, Rachel. I have noticed an increased environmental awareness in Thailand recently as well. I hope it gains traction. Once people in Thailand will consider it fashionable to bring their own bags, we will take a big step in the right direction.

  • Frank Gould says:

    Hey Claudio, thanks for posting this. I think I read it before but then again, maybe not. It also made me remember the Jeremy Irons mockumentary that I pasted a link to below. Keep up the good work!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLgh9h2ePYw

    • Claudio says:

      Thanks for the link to the Jeremy Irons Mockumentary. I never get tired watching it. Just the other day I was reminded of it when I saw a plastic bag flying high off the ground and seemingly dancing in the wind. I’m convinced it has made its way to the sea, which is not too far from here. It is probably well on its way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by now. Sadly so!

  • Fritz says:

    Great post. What happened to me the other day was that I was refused entry to Makro because I took my own empty shopping bag into the store. At Big C the cashier was completely baffled when I told her I didn’t want plastic bags. She got really moody etc. 7/11 completely ignored me and still put everything into plastic bags. Amazing Thailand it is.

  • Lindsay says:

    Thank you! I feel so frustrated when vendors and clerks robotically place my purchase in plastic bag despite vain protest in English. Sometimes, it’s food inside of a bag, that they place inside another bag!! Drives me wild. Now I’ve got the magic phrase :)

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