Waste pickers leading the charge on circular economies in Thailand

05 January 2024 15:20

Bangkok - Thai waste pickers are sustaining circular economies in reused and recycled goods even as government officials neglect the issue, according to Stockholm Environmental Institute researchers. Better infrastructure and other policies could help boost these efforts, the scholars conclude.

Stockholm Environmental Institute researchers surveyed waste pickers and conducted other research in Thailand to determine how grassroots efforts to expand circular economies were succeeding in the country. “Walking with waste pickers in their daily work routes threw light on the embodiment of waste metabolisms and everyday practices in accessing and metabolizing waste,” the Institute said in a January 3 press release.

In their findings published in the February 2024 issue of the journal Cities under the title “A situated urban political ecology of plastics recycling in Bangkok,” the researchers found that Thai policymakers largely ignore the issue. The Thai government is not spending much money or enacting laws to boost circular economies. Thailand, meanwhile, dumps high levels of plastics into the ocean.

Nonetheless, the scholars write, the waste pickers and others have cultivated relationships with people and animals to reuse and recycle discarded items.

They suggest that advocates of circular economies in Thailand adopt a “situated urban political ecology,” or SUPE, to advance their green dreams. In particular, they call for “embodied and situated processes and practices in the transformations of socio-natures,” or defining new physical measures to help trash pickers and others who trade in circularity, and “spatio-sensorial methods that can trace circulations and metabolisms of socio-natures,” or processes that can help trace and track goods in circular economies.

“SUPE can underpin grounded projects of bettering human-environment relationships in the age of planetary crisis,” they write. ce/jd

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