Putting the Grrr back in Green

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Garbage Really Gets My Goat

A couple of months ago in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, I noticed a kid — no more than 7 years old — take an ice cream sandwich his parents had just purchased, unwrap it, then waltz right past a garbage can and throw the wrapper into the street. You know what I found most surprising? 

That there was actually a garbage can.

funny garbage can

I’m a little angry today, and it’s another ice cream induced headache. (It was a Cornetto for those keeping track, Magnum is well out of my budget range.) I bought one here in Bangkok last night, and once the chocolatey goodness had gone, I found myself with sticky fingers, and an even stickier dilemma…

What to do with the ice cream wrapper?

Surely there’s a garbage bin outside the store where I bought it, I thought. Well, no.

That’s okay, 7/11 just up the road will have one for sure. Nope.

In fact, in the 15 minutes it took me to walk back to my hotel, I did not see one public garbage can.


I ended up taking the wrapper back to my room. Even the lobby in my hotel didn’t have a trash bin.

That makes me angry.

Dr. Andy Nazarechuk, President of Asia-Pacific CHRIE at ASEAN Tourism Forum 2012, Manado Indonesia

The theme at the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Tourism Forum in Manado, Indonesia last month was ASEAN Goes Green. There was a rally cry on all things green at the outset of the conference from Keynote Speaker Mr. Taleb D. Rifai, Secretary General of United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Then a well received call to arms from Dr. Andy Nazarechuk, President of Asia-Pacific Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education (APacCHRIE). And Jim Boyles, GM of Melia hotels in Bali, Indonesia went on to give an enthusiastic speech about the economic and earthly benefits of hotels turning the green corner.

And that’s kinda where it ended. There was little else green about the conference. But more on that in a bit.

Building a Better Bin

Dr. Andy’s presentation centred on an example of the development of Boracay in the Philippines over the years, complete with photos he had taken himself only weeks earlier.

One of the photos was of what he called the perfect garbage can.


So why is this the ultimate in trash receptacles? Well, it’s made from concrete. That means it’s going to last for decades, and unlike plastic trash bins, it probably won’t end up in a garbage dump anytime soon. It also means it was made locally, which lessens the carbon footprint used to create it. And bonus points to Boracay for creating local jobs.

So we’ve got the perfect garbage bin. But what ends up happening to it? Something like this…

overflowing garbage can on the beach in Boracay Philippines

You see, tourists DO want to dispose of their trash. But when facilities do exist, the local infrastructure is often ill-equipped to handle it. Garbage collection is infrequent. Garbage is oftentimes just burned, or even worse, dumped into the ocean. Take a look at this article from Time Magazine about the problems garbage is causing for Bunaken Island in Indonesia.

At the ASEAN Tourism Forum, the tourism boards from the 10 member nations presented their plans for 2012. Mostly they centred around projected numbers of visitors for the coming year, infrastructure developments, and accolades each country received in the previous year.

The only one that appeared to have a green strategy was Thailand.  They called it the “7 Greens”.

Thailand 7 Greens Strategy

And they backed it up nicely by offering a USB key to media members filled with PDF brochures instead of the stacks of paper brochures and booklets the others member nations handed out. Nice touch.

But try finding a public garbage can in Bangkok.

Some of the ASEAN countries mentioned a focus on eco-tourism in their presentations. And that was quite welcome…but…you can have all the green hotels and green attractions in the world, but when your beaches end up looking like this one in Phu Quoc, Vietnam…

Garbage lining the beach in Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Or this one in Krong Koh Kong, Cambodia…

Garbage along the beach in Krong Koh Kong,  Cambodia

…tourists are going to have something like this to say,

“The hotel was fabulous, but the garbage on the beach was atrocious.”

So what’s the answer? Well, garbage cans are a start. But what happens downstream from that bin needs to handled a lot better as well. If Tourism Boards are serious about putting their greenbacks where their green mouth is, they should consider something like what’s happening at the Chiang Mai Sunday Market in Thailand.

Chiang Mai, Thailand Sunday Night Market food bazaar recycling program

Looks complicated, but they even have an attendant there to assist you with disposing of your waste properly. Now that’s going green.

Recycling food waste, Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market, Thailand

An initiative from NoFoam.org in Chiang Mai is also attempting to convince local food vendors to quit serving their dishes in foam plates and containers. It looks like they are having some success – many of the stalls serve meals in containers made from banana leaf.

No foam for food poster -- Chiang Mai Sunday night market, Thailand

The loose cannons in this equation are people like that kid in Ho Chi Minh City. And his parents. If the locals don’t give a damn about where the garbage is going, what message does that send to tourists?

I would argue that it’s not tourism that is responsible for the massive garbage problem in Southeast Asia, but its own inhabitants who shoulder most of the blame.

Perhaps that’s where some of the focus should be.

What are your thoughts?

Further reading:

  • For Dr. Andy Nazarechuk’s and Jim Boyle’s presentations at ASEAN Tourism Forum “ASEAN Goes Green” educational conference see: ATF Indonesia — Update (April 2012): It appears that the ATF Indonesia website is down. If you would like a copy of Dr. Andy Nazarechuk’s presentation, send me a message via my Contact Form and I will send a copy your way.
  • For the full Tourism Authority of Thailand media briefing at ATF 2012, including speaker’s notes, check out: TATNews.org

I am a travel blogger and freelance travel writer. I left behind my cubicle-shaped cell to see the world. Now I inspire others to shake the shackles and escape through travel. This is my blog.

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