By Kanda Yaemboonruang
The Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) has joined with “WON”, a Thai project aimed at sustainably solving the plastic waste problem using the “Circular Economy” concept. “Won” in Thai means circular. Since its establishment two years ago, the project has experienced significant growth and is well known across the country. Currently, WON has over 200 plastic waste drop-points nationwide, and AIT is the latest drop-point in the province of Pathum Thani.
An internal research study conducted in 2018 on the AIT campus showed that most of the garbage generated was categorized as rubbish accounting for 31%, followed by plastic waste at 29%. Moreover, waste segregation was not properly practiced making it difficult to effectively recycle the garbage on campus. Realizing the seriousness of this issue, the MPA Program (Master’s in Marine Plastics Abatement Program), the latest degree program on offer at AIT, joined forces with WON to encourage AIT residents to recycle plastics. The initiative is driven by Mr. Thanapat Jansakoo and Ms. Nichakul Phosirikul, both research assistants at the Environmental Engineering and Management (EEM) program.
Mr. Thanapat said the new “AITxWON” initiative is under the umbrella of “Waste Management: Plastic Waste Project” which started in July 2020. The project aims to turn AIT into a recycling community through various initiatives, and AITxWON is the first step. The objectives of AITxWON are to collect stretchable plastic waste on the AIT campus, and to raise AIT residents’ awareness about plastic waste management in households and offices. Recycling bins are located at the bookstore, the grocery shop, SERD building (EEM garden), 7-11 outlet, and Dormitory ST-6. Two collection bins are placed at each location. One is for stretchable plastic waste which will be transferred to the WON project for the recycling process. The other is for hard plastics to be collected and transferred to other organizations which re-use or recycle hard plastics.
“It is important that plastics should be cleaned and dried. We do not want to contaminate items in the recycling bin as, if contaminated, collected garbage will not be accepted by recycling organizations. The project not only aims to encourage residents to properly separate waste and recycle things, but also seeks to instill behavioral change and conscientiousness,” Mr. Thanapat added.
Ms. Nichakul revealed that results from the first week of the project showed that the area that has been most promising is the EEM garden, as plastic waste was properly separated. The project team also found that twice as much hard plastics as stretchable plastics are generated on the campus with the largest proportion being plastic bottles. Further, unacceptable waste such as food waste, paper bags or paper cups is still found in the collection bins, with the drop-point in front of 7-11 showing the highest amount of such unacceptable waste.
“People might not understand the purpose of these bins and might be confused with the waste classification. Also, we found that most plastics have not been cleaned properly before disposal in the bins, and this has created difficulty for the collectors as such dirty plastics contaminate the recycling bins. Although early results have not shown a high success rate, our team remains optimistic and will keep driving the initiative through various awareness raising campaigns, Ms. Nichakul explained.
Mr. Wanchai Sophonsakulrat, Director of the Office of Facilities and Assets Management (OFAM), revealed that the AIT community produces around 700 – 800 kilograms of waste per day, which is a manageable amount. Although AIT is efficiently managing waste by making sure that the campus provides facilities and necessities that promote waste separation, surveys conducted by OFAM often show that waste bins still contain mixed types of garbage.
“I am happy that we now have this project on campus, and OFAM has been facilitating the project team. I believe the project will help raise awareness among AITians to recycle plastic in a more efficient way. OFAM is looking forward to more initiatives such as this and will serve as a facilitative unit in projects that promote sustainable waste management around the campus,” the OFAM director added.
The AITxWON is the first initiative within the “Waste Management” project that will run for 5 months. Also to be introduced under the project is a specially designed collecting tower that promotes waste separation in limited spaces, a recycle bank and the “AITics Zero Waste Club.” The project team is optimistic that with such initiatives, AIT can fast become a sustainable recycling community.