Samui’s Super Heroes
Once upon a time, there was a lovely little tropical island. Just about everything was built out of wood and roofed with palm leaves. People used coconut shells as plant pots. Tins and bottles were rare and thus used again and again. Then an airport appeared bringing foreign tourists and their money – and everything changed.
People still built little houses out of wood and, like they always did, chucked the building waste over the fence. But people building new-money houses out of concrete, brick, plastic, and glass did the same thing too. And, over the years, when the supermarkets appeared and the 7-11s were selling tins and bottles, and the traditional plates made out of palm leaves were replaced by plastic trays, the left-overs were still thrown over the fence or into the sea. It was traditional. What else could you do with it?
Unlike wood and palm leaves, plastic doesn’t decay. It won’t rot down into the soil. And so one day that lovely little island woke up to the fact that plastic garbage bags, plastic trays, spoons, forks, rope, bags, tarpaulins, pipes, plumbing, and a thousand other discarded things were still sitting there by the side of the road, going nowhere.
In the years that followed, the influx of residents from abroad increased. Every few years another crusader would stand up and declare war on the increasing piles of garbage that was going ‘over the fence’ and out of sight. None succeeded. The time wasn’t right. Both central and local government had more important things to worry about. But the time was coming. There was an ever-increasing tide of public awareness and disquiet, and it finally came to a head in 2016.
However, going back to 2013, in the Koh Lipa area near Krabi, Swiss-born Roman Peter suddenly decided to launch a local clean-up. He’d had enough of the accumulating waste and garbage that was building up all around him. The turnout for the event was astonishing and rapidly led to other similar meetings. The name ‘Trash Hero’ was coined and stuck. And today Trash Hero has more than 40 ‘chapters’ and has spread all the way across South East Asia into Singapore, and with groups in Europe, the USA, and even Africa.
Trash Hero Samui came into being in 2016 and celebrated its first birthday having completed 45 clean-up sessions involving a total of over 1,000 volunteers and having removed over 16,000 kilos of waste.
There’s a very active and aware community of residents on Samui, groups like Sisters on Samui (SOS) and Samui Mala, and they’ve both been working steadily to address the situation.
Samui’s social media, too, has been voicing its on-going concern for a long time, with numerous fragmented suggestions and attempts to organize something effective over the last few years. But, all of this notwithstanding, it took the cheerful presence of the American, Brent Jones, to act as an energizing catalyst and draw everything coherently together.
“I can’t really take any credit here,” Brent told me, “because there was already an existing chapter of Trash Hero in operation. It was fronted by a lovely Thai woman, Khun Jinju Pruchaweng. But what was inconsistent was a coordinated link between the Thai community and the foreign residents, with a system of inter-communication that knitted all efforts into one unity. And now this has happened.”
“It’s not my style to be pushy or demanding,” Brent continued, “so I just quietly got into the habit of announcing on our Facebook group that there’d be a beach- clean-up next Sunday. Sometimes there’d be five or six people turn up. Sometimes a school would organize a group to join in. On one occasion we had 300! And now, thanks to Khun Jinju, we’ve got institutions like Bangkok Airways, Tesco Lotus, Makro, Seatran Ferry and the ‘We Are Bamboo’ group all working together. Even the local government has now become actively interested and involved.”
Although creating sustainable solutions to waste disposal is a prime consideration, Trash Hero is also introducing other and parallel activities: recycling, donating and siting numerous decorated waste bins, an excellent re-usable fold-out pocket-sized shopping bag, even a system of free water stations around the island, with free Trash Hero water bottles to replace throw-away convenience store bottles – and there’s more in the pipeline.
If you want to lend a hand or become involved in any way, take a look at the Trash Hero website, and then at the Facebook groups. It’s taken a while for it all to happen but, now there’s a universal awareness, it’s only going to become bigger, stronger, and better!
(via Rob De Wet, Samui Holiday Magazine)