BANGKOK: Retailers and convenience stores in Thailand have pledged to stop giving plastic bags to customers from next year in a bid to reduce plastic waste, the country's environment minister said.
Major operators will stop providing single-use plastic bags, starting January 2020, after signing up to a government programme, Varawut Silpa-archa, the natural resources and environment minister, wrote on his Facebook page late on Monday (Sep 23).
Varawut said "43 department stores and convenience stores around the country have joined the programme to stop handing out plastic bags", urging the public to use alternatives, such as cloth bags, for shopping.
Companies in the programme include CPALL, which operates more than 10,000 7-Eleven convenience stores in Thailand, and the country's largest retailer, Central Group.
"Convenience will slightly be reduced in order to extend the life of the environment," he said.
The Thai government earlier said it would ban three types of plastic - microbeads, cap seals and oxo-degradable plastics - by the end of the year.
Environmental group Greenpeace says about 75 billion pieces of plastic bags end up in the waste each year in Thailand and half of this is from malls, supermarkets and convenience stores, with the other half coming from traditional markets and street vendors.
These bags are part of almost 2 million tonnes of plastic waste produced each year by Thai consumers.
"This is a good start ... I hope this is not just a PR exercise" said Tara Buakamsri, Greenpeace's country director in Thailand. "The challenges is in the working details in how to measure progress and ensure that the measure is effective in really banning the use of plastic bag."
Many department stores and supermarkets in Thailand already have their own programmes to cut down on plastic bags.
The Mall Group, who owns the popular Siam Paragon mall in Bangkok, has since July offered customers incentives by charging 1 baht per plastic bag, with proceeds going to environmental causes, the company said.