Saturday, 19 November 2016

Cleaner Kent and Thailand?

Khun Ploenpote Atthakor as always makes some insightful points in her article “Battle against foam” on food and packaging waste from the Sanam Luang memorial event for King Bhumibol, and more generally in BKK.

Certainly the amount of Styrofoam containers and plastic bags blowing around roads and railtracks and caught in trees and electric pylons is an unpleasant sight in Bangkok and throughout Thailand.

But 76 tonnes of waste collected by volunteers of Thammasat University at Sanam Luang is impressive as is foam for Loy Krathong reduced to only 5% of floats.

And in Phnom Penh recently the Water Festival event also yielded tons of plastic bottles and bags – and these were merely swept into the Bassac River and Tonle Sap by refuse collectors. The Loy Kratong floats whether made of flowers or bread make a far less unpleasant and eco-friendly sight.

Hopefully too a little further upstream, the dustbinmen of Laos will be as protective of littering the Mekong.
And unfortunately here in Kent and UK we have a patchy record in waste disposal. Only in the last year has there been a UK-wide ban on plastic bags from supermarkets (or purchased for c.20THB), and it’s been a huge success with such waste being reduced by 90%.

Even the UK’s traditional water display of a supermarket trolley dumped in a canal or river is a thing of the past with a £1 deposit on the trolley.

And in Kent with its 1.3M population we are reducing landfill sites to just 5 in the next few years to help keep the Garden of England clean and tidy. But much more needs to be done to increase household recycling with the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle mantra, from 40% to nearer the 90% levels as in other EU nations such as Germany and Netherlands.

##Recycling and Public health##

Hopefully Khun Ploenpote’s points on water containers for large events could be developed in UK too. As could the converted toilet-bus that I’ve seen in Thailand, which is a terrific on the spot mobile initiative for large events.

Sadly too many Victorian public fountains and toilets, developed as public health initiatives from the cholera pandemic improvements by Jon Snow in 1854 in Soho in London, are still closed here in East Kent as a retrograde step.

Such initiatives are particularly relevant given World Toilet Day and the quick and cheap and effective public health improvements from reducing Open Defecation in India and Africa – that would be ripe for support in UK and Thailand with supermarket promotions in Tesco Lotus or Sainsburys or Asda along with Lucky Iron Fish or Lifebuoy products or health programmes such as Left is Life.

As with the rather shoddy state of UK’s Victorian sewers and drinking water infrastructure more could be done – and Thailand may have much to do to rival Singapore’s drinking water system. Especially with Cambodia water snapping at both nations’ heels with the Ramon Magsaysay award and ongoing work by water engineer Ek Son Chann.

And Thailand may well leap ahead in recycling plastic water bottles and coffee-shop cups that the UK still struggles with.

BPA and DEHP health hazards in food plastic containers are becoming more understood in UK and improvements beginning. Along too with product formulations and packaging branding around the sugar tax and HFSS foods (high in Fat Salt and Sugar) improvements.

The latter will be a key part of my KCC Leader 2017 election campaign and MP 2020 campaign (unless the Brexit silliness is cancelled before it results in an election next year).

##Thailand and UK rice dishes?##

But shouldn’t such initiatives be part of a wider Thai-UK food programme?

Certainly Thai cuisine culture can be better promoted with celebrity chefs for Thai restaurants, different Thai dishes and Michelin stars and so on. It would be wrong of me not to mention the Surin restaurant Recipe Book (try the sea bass!) available on PDF and all good bookstores.

And the wider rice crisis raises the issue of Thai exports to UK and Europe – as well as UK and EU support with the alphabet soup of organisations such as ADB and AIIB for greater access of Thai rice and superfoods to markets in not just EU but also India and Africa.

The new Thai rice standards upgraded the rice crop standards to 97% Hom Mali and 83% Jasmine and the rest as Broken Rice could mark the first step in such activity? Certainly the world of Kasetsart and Surin Rice Research Centre would help further develop Thailand’s rice offering and hard currency potential beyond ASEAN.

This week saw an extensive review with the UK celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on UK food waste still at an astonishing 30% of all food. Thai broken rice would fit in with such schemes as Asda’s Wonky Veg (perfectly-edible but cosmetically-blemished fruit and veg and rice) that has a price and branding differentiation.

Such activity would help position Thai rice as part of its premium cuisine culture, free up Thailand’s land and prevent waste and refocus on other food markets such as superfoods whether pineapple or mango etc.

And I’ve written before on the potential for Thai rice as part of an ASEAN food system to alleviate the shocking 40% Cambodia malnutrition as well as complement Khmer rice brands and even Vietnam and its FairTrade coffee potential.

Or Kasetsart and the Thammasat volunteers of Sanam Luang and pupil-teacher exchanges with Kent’s Hadlow College and Produced in Kent food brands here in East Kent and its four universities.

Food for thought or just so much waste?


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