As we noted in our prior post , we are involved with studies working to understand the nature of local plastic waste systems in Bangkok, Thailand, and their impacts on the lives of the people that interact with those systems. Dr. Archer has led this work for the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), and Dr. Rado did so for Thammasat University (TU). These studies focus on multiple factors, including socioeconomic and environmental concerns. The purpose of running the studies was to learn more about relevant systems to support efforts to improve outcomes. Desired benefits include a variety of important aims around plastic use and end states and the socioeconomic factors that are our current topic.

The Big Picture

In Thailand, and many other Asian countries, waste management systems are underdeveloped. In such cases, work that is not formally recognized by a nation’s government dominates “the processes of waste collection, sorting, and recycling.” All levels of the system receive plastics, but informal waste collectors generally interact with the smaller aggregators — also known as junk shops or recycling shops — in their local communities. The materials accepted by different organizations vary. Materials with high demand for recycled content, like HDPE, LDPE, PET, and PP, are usually taken, but not by all aggregators.

The receipt of other materials depends on the circumstances, and they are generally less likely to be accepted. If an aggregator does not have a convenient outlet with which to sell a specific material, or the price is unfavorable, they will tend not to accept the material, and it will become waste. (Prime examples of this are bottles made out of PET with color added to the plastic and styrofoam containers.) Pricing and material acceptance affect waste collectors’ choices regarding the plastics they select and where and when they choose to work.

The breakout of roles is somewhat complicated due to the coexistence of formal and informal work. In general, people who are are employed by organizations recognized by the nation’s legal system are referred to as “formal workers.” Such jobs include working for registered companies, government agencies, and NGOs. People who are not employed by such entities are known as “informal workers.” These include people who work independently or for unregistered businesses.

This article is written by Chris Oestereich Frsa, Linear to Circular and Wicked Problems Collaborative.