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tourism in Thailand
Thailand is a unique country that attracts over 32 million tourists each year. Tourism made up 20.6 percent of Thailand’s GDP in 2016 and supported about 6.1 percent of jobs. Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, was the most visited city in 2017. It is clear the tourism in Thailand is impacting the country.

Thailand’s 2004 Tsunami Recovery

Tourism both aided and hindered Thailand in its post-tsunami state. With a high need for jobs and funds, many luxury hotels were able to reopen within months. Unfortunately, some groups such as migrant workers had a difficult time receiving aid, if they even received any at all.

The event was also a catalyst for the marginalization of those in a lower socioeconomic status as many were barred from returning to their homes in popular tourist areas such as the beach. It is estimated that upwards of 10,000 were either prevented from returning or an attempt was made to prevent them from returning.

The Marginalized in Thailand

The country’s social bias against migrant workers, immigrants and refugees is one of Thailand’s biggest criticisms. People in these marginalized groups are at a legal disadvantage compared to Thai citizens. Migrant workers are at the will of their employer, needing a “termination and employer transfer form” (in other words, permission from their current employer) in order to switch jobs. Research by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2010 found 33 to 50 percent of employers in the fishing, domestic and manufacturing sector used this law to their advantage to prevent losing migrant workers as employees.

There are also multiple reports of migrant workers being punished by law in what seem like uncertain situations. One example is the fourteen migrant workers who filed a complaint against their employer for exploitation, thus damaging the company’s reputation. This resulted in the employer filing a lawsuit against the workers with potential consequences being imprisonment and fines. 

Another unfortunate example occurred in 2015 when two migrant workers from Myanmar were sentenced to death for the murder of two tourists; the case was marred by police misconduct such as the mishandling of evidence and the alleged torture of the workers. While it is difficult to find an exact number of migrant workers convicted of a crime in Thailand, it is becoming increasingly clear to the world that this is a human rights issue that needs to be addressed.

Sex Tourism in Thailand

Prostitution was outlawed in the 1960s, but Thailand still has a growing trade revolving around paid sex. There is no way to get a real number on those traveling for sex tourism in Thailand, but NGOs estimated 70 percent of male travelers were visiting specifically for the sex industry in 2013. Prostitution does not have a social stigma in Thailand like in other countries and many Thais have accepted it as part of the culture, creating growth in the industry despite questionable legalities.

Medical Tourism in Thailand

Many tourists travel to Thailand because of the low-cost medical treatment. In 2006, about 200,000 tourists traveled to Thailand explicitly for medical treatment. By 2011, that number rose to half a million.

According to insurance company Thai Expat Club, Thailand was third in the world as the most likely destination for health tourism in 2016. Many medical tourists are saving at least half of what they would pay in the US. Add on recovery by the beach or in a resort and it is no wonder Thailand has become the medical hub of Asia.

Tourism’s Impact on the Environment

With tourism in Thailand increasing, trash increases as well. Unfortunately, Thailand’s infrastructure has been unable to keep up. A common assessment has been waste left over from beach parties. It is estimated that Ko Phangan Full Moon beach parties leave about 12 tons of debris per day behind which mostly goes into landfills or the ocean.

Many groups are currently trying to highlight this issue which will hopefully create a springboard for biodegradable materials and other environmentally conscious decisions. Some of the organizations partnering with Thailand to address the waste issues are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which collaborates with Thailand to protect environmental laws, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which works on conservation within the country.

Tourism in Thailand is drawing in great opportunities such as growing jobs, a developing medical field and cultural awareness. However, there are some points of contention with prostitution, the waste problem and an increasing awareness of the marginalized in Thai society. Curbing environmental problems and working toward a more equal society will create a stronger Thailand and, ultimately, a stronger world.

– Natasha Komen
Photo: Flickr


Waste management is an increasingly daunting problem for the country of Bangladesh, where as much as 50 percent of waste goes uncollected. Uncollected waste goes untreated, resulting in more water contamination, disease and greenhouse gas emissions. Untreated waste generates methane, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Between 2005 and 2020, emissions as a result of untreated waste in Bangladesh are expected to rise 22 percent.

The capital city of Dhaka is not only the most densely populated area; it is also home to the worst waste management in the country. In 2010, Dhaka generated 4,700 metric tons of waste daily. Fortunately, 80 percent of the waste Bangladesh produces is organic material. Maqsood Sinha and Iftekhar Enayetullah saw this as an opportunity and decided to turn the organic waste in Bangladesh into something both profitable and beneficial to the community: compost.

The two enterprising men started an organization called Waste Concern and set up community-based composting. Several families (three to seven) share chest-high metal barrels into which they deposit their food scraps. The composting barrels hold up to 400 pounds of waste, sit on concrete bases and, through specially drilled holes, encourage aerobic decomposition.

Sinha and Enayetullah started Waste Concern in 1995, taking their barrels door-to-door. Since then, the organization has served 30,000 people in Dhaka city and 100,000 people in 14 other cities and towns in Bangladesh, including slums and low and middle-income communities. Composting the organic waste reduces methane emissions by half a ton and eliminates a significant amount of municipal waste. Community-based composting helps control waste in Bangladesh and also opens up job opportunities for low-income sectors, helping to lift people out of poverty.

The project has saved over $1 million in waste management due to the revenue created from the compost itself and the simple, cost-effective system needed to create it. As a result of its success as a small-scale operation in Dhaka, Waste Concern plans to expand into a bigger operation, consume more waste and dump out more compost.

The project’s growth reflects Bangladesh’s push to reduce the country’s waste output and strengthen its economic status. Getting the community involved not only decreases the waste in Bangladesh, but it also establishes an environment of accountability and family.

Taylor Elgarten

Photo: Flickr

Cook Islands

The Cook Islands is a sovereign island nation in free association with New Zealand. The main island, Rarotonga, is home to 70% of the nation’s estimated 17,800 people. Rarotonga is a small island, measuring approximately 26 square miles, with only one airport to accommodate its primary source of income: tourism.

Tourism constitutes more than half of the nation’s GDP and is the main stimulant of economic growth. However, it also contributes to the growing problem of waste management in the Cook Islands.

Waste collection is provided to all households Monday through Saturday by two private contractors operating in conjunction with the Ministry of Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI). Businesses are responsible for disposing of their own waste in the sanitary landfill located in Avarua, the most populous district of Rarotonga and the nation’s capital.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand, along with support from the private sector, provide aid to improve the conditions of waste management in the Cook Islands. The Waste Management Facility, managed by ICI, employs three staff members at the landfill and another five at the recycling center. The sanitary landfill was designed in 2006 with an intended lifespan of 15 years but has now reached its capacity.

Avarua is also home to four operational incinerators used to burn garbage, two of which are used solely for airline waste and medical waste and none of which possess emissions control technology. In addition, open burning in backyards and public spaces is a common practice amongst Cook Islanders.

This is a problem, as open burning and the resulting emissions can be detrimental to human and environmental health. Open burning has been proven to emit significantly more harmful pollutants than municipal incinerators, releasing twice as many furans, 17 times as many dioxins and 40 times more ash, as well as carbon monoxide and dioxide, lead, arsenic, mercury, acid vapors and carcinogenic tars.

This not only because is there no emission control, but because open fires burn at lower temperatures, inhibiting complete combustion of the waste being burned. They also operate closer to the ground, increasing the risk of exposure to harmful effects.

Tourism is a major contributor to the abundance of refuse which has made it exceedingly difficult to control in the Cook Islands. However, the income generated from tourism is needed to stimulate the growth of the waste management system. After all, the standard set for tourists has been the principal catalyst for discussion over the development of waste management in the Cook Islands. The government is looking to break this waste cycle by improving facility quality.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr

 

sealed air
There is no surprise that the world will continue to see a vastly growing population in the upcoming years. This means that society will need to provide food for an increasing number of people to meet the needs of an expanding population.

One company, Sealed Air, works to protect the food and water the world consumes. With the intent of maintaining an efficient distribution of food and water for people worldwide, Sealed Air focuses on the processing, shipping and preparation of consumable products in “a safe and efficient environment.” In essence, Sealed Air focuses on packaging, cushioning and clean hygiene.

According to the company, its recognized brands, including Cryovac, Bubble Wrap and Diversity, help to ensure “a safer and less wasteful food supply chain, protect[ing] valuable goods shipped around the world, and improv[ing] health through clean environments.” Today, the company employs nearly 25,000 people, and services 175 countries with its products.

Therefore, Sealed Air is in the business of ensuring that food and water arrive to the consumer in as safe and accessible a way as possible. The company works with a number of government agencies and NGOs, including the EPA, the U.N. World Food Programme, the World Wildlife Fund and the Alliance for Water Stewardship.

One of Sealed Air’s primary focuses is to change and reverse public perception of waste. In the U.S., roughly 40 percent of food grown is wasted. The world as a whole wastes one-third of its food each year. A rising global population means more people, more food and potentially more waste, which Sealed Air is working to prevent.

A publicly traded company, Sealed Air, generated a revenue of nearly $7.7 billion last year. Declaring itself as the “new global leader” in food safety and security, facility hygiene and product protection, the company intends to cement itself as a global player in the fight to deliver as many consumable products to as many people as possible.

– Ethan Safran

Sources: World Food Program USA, Sealed Air, European Cleaning Journal
Photo: Sun Earth

pacific garbage patch
Lying about a thousand miles off the coast of California is a vast collection of marine debris, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This problematic heap of floating artificial waste is continually exacerbated by photodegradation, the process by which the sun corrodes plastic into smaller units of the same material. These smaller pieces make the trash pool much more difficult to collect and contaminate marine animals’ food supply.

Fish, sea turtles and birds are consuming these small pieces of plastic in massive numbers. Since plastic is known to absorb toxins from the oceans, scientists have attributed the decline of numerous species’ populations to these tiny, poisonous particles. BBC reported that “about one-third of all albatross chicks die on Midway, many as the result of being mistakenly fed plastic by their parents.”

Yet, animal rights activists are not the only groups that should be incensed by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Boating and submarine equipment has been reportedly damaged by run-ins with this Texas-sized reservoir of trash. In addition, lovers of seafood are now exposed to the harmful toxins harbored by fish caught near the area, as the polluted region is a common stop for commercial fisherman. Finally, currents are transporting the trash from the gyre to the once pristine beaches of Hawaii, burying vacation destinations in multiple feet of plastic.

Any large-scale cleanup effort appears to be difficult to attain at any reasonable cost. The most basic method would involve using gigantic nets to collect the trash and convert it into oil. However, such an ill-fated strategy would inadvertently catch and kill an unreasonable number of commercial fish, turtles, sharks and other vital members of the marine animal kingdom.

However, 19-year-old Boyan Slat has provided some hope for the future. He proposed an innovated technique that has been endorsed by marine biologists and engineers alike. Slat believes that a collection of floating buoys and platforms on the ocean’s surface can separate the waste without capturing innocent wildlife. Learn more about the project at Boyan Slat’s website.

Although Slat’s project is years away from any potential implementation, it would be in the best interest of both man and animal if this theory can successfully be put into practice.

— Sam Preston

Sources: National Geographic, US Department of Commerce, BBC, How Stuff Works
Photo: Global Energy Profs

trash_selfie
The selfie took the world by storm, spreading like a virus across social media platforms. The term often carries a negative connotation in many contexts, reflecting a sense of heightened narcissism brought on by the digital age.

However, even viral trends like the selfie can be turned around and used for productive and positive reasons.

A new selfie phenomenon is catching on in Tunisia for a very unique reason. It involves citizens taking snapshots of themselves with piles of trash in the background with the fitting title, “trash selfie.”

About two months ago, Tunisians began taking the trash selfie and posting it to Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #SelfiePoubella (#trashselfie). The photos are aimed at raising awareness of the excessive garbage and pollution currently plaguing the country.

The revolution in Tunisia left much of the country destroyed and many areas have yet to see proper repair and reform. As the political system works to restore order, public services have fallen behind. People are simply throwing their trash on the streets on top of piles that remain untouched.

Many Tunisian neighborhoods are riddled with rubbish, raising several health concerns. Aside from the smell alone, mosquito infestations and unsanitary conditions raise the risk of disease. Pollution-related diseases, such as asthma, are also increasing in the area.

The government has failed to properly respond to the crisis up until now. Tunisians are taking the trash selfie to social media platforms as a way to galvanize government response. As a result, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa is currently working up a plan and intends to increase funding to the most problematic areas.

The waste treatment crisis is not limited to Tunisia alone, however. Trash in public areas has become a facet of life in much of the Middle East and North Africa region as the result of the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in 2010 as a result of Twitter advocacy. The platform was critical to revolutionary communication throughout the conflict, as the entire world tuned in to a live-tweeted revolution. Social websites and mobile devices served as an effective way to voice the concerns of a people and push for political change.

Countries like Tunisia show the true potential of the Internet for uniting people over a cause they believe in. Middle Easterners have taken up a public voice on social platforms for real and necessary reform, and it seems they will continue to use it this way.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Green Prophet, Global Voices Online, PRI
Photo: Global Voices Online

India_Rag_Pickers_Garbage_Waste
The United Nations estimates that the world wastes more than a billion tons of garbage annually. The vast majority of this garbage ends up in landfills, and human scavengers attempt to live off what the rest of the world has thrown away.

In the New Delhi 70-acre Ghazipur landfill alone there are an estimated 350,000 scavengers, or ‘rag pickers’. Living in filth, people spend their days sorting the endless trash into towering mountains, searching for items they can sell.

Plastic bags go for 5¢ a pound, and human hair fetches $18 a pound.

Sheikh Habibullah, has built a dirt-floor hut for his family of six by hanging rice-bags for walls, palm-leafs as a roof, and a Bollywood poster board for the door. The family collectively earns $60 a month, half of which pays a local boss for rent and the electricity to power a single light bulb.

For most, a doctor is out of the question and with boundless toxins leaking into the landfill from local dairies, slaughterhouses and a crematorium, cancer and birth defects are common.

Nevertheless 60-year-old Sheikh Abdul Kashid claims he’s “much freer here…I’ve given four children some education. I could never do that back home.”

At a landfill outside Karuvadikuppam in India, rag pickers celebrate when someone finds a chicken bone in the newest truck delivery. Scavengers also sometimes find onions, tomatoes, or garlic. A woman calls out to a passing reporter, “Don’t take the garbage away. We get everything from it. We survive because of it.”

In La Chureca landfill beside Lake Nicaragua a shelter has been set up for landfill workers. At Los Quinchos Centre people can receive lunch and, if they can afford the time off, relax with puzzles or practice their writing by copying down sentences and numbers. Maggie Barclay, a reporter for ‘Guardian Weekly’ asked a little boy about the birds in his drawing. He told her they were vultures – the only birds he’d ever seen.

The Huléne garbage dump in Maputo, Mozambique is home to an estimated 700 people. The sight of a garbage truck causes many to give chase, hoping to be the first to look through the new trash delivery. According to Jose Ferriera’s research these deliveries procure “everything from food, recyclable material, dead animals and fetuses of newly born.”

Ferriera spent time among the landfill community in Mozambique, and found that “[d]espite all the circumstances of how they live, they keep on showing their kindness and happiness and hospitality. We don’t find these human qualities in many places in the world.” He explains that living in the landfill was never a choice for many of them, and how “[m]any of them have seen the other side and dream of it themselves and every day they hope for a better life.”

– Lydia Caswell

 

Sources: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Guardian, CNN
Photo: Sulekha

 

View the biggest slums in the world.

 

clothing_store
Whether they are glossing over fashion magazines, going to the mall, or simply shopping for clothes online, people are always looking the latest trend in the fashion world. This propensity for fashion ends up creating a big waste in the economy.

According to The Magazine of Santa Clarita, every “American throws away 68 pounds of clothes on average per year.” However, Americans are neglecting the bigger issue, global poverty.

Many people see clothing as a way to express themselves, however, in the modern day, fashion trends come and go at an extremely fast pace. Americans spends on average about $82 million on clothes every year, even though these clothes are soon after discarded for “the next best thing.”

Even if clothing items are recyclable, the recycling rate is extremely low, at around 14 percent. In fact, taking discarded and non-recycled clothes into consideration, more than $70 million are wasted every year.

In comparison, the total spending of USAID for health issues in the country of Uganda is $157 million. Although the waste of clothing in the U.S. is half of the USAID’s spending, one might ask oneself, “is it really necessary?” Even though global poverty is a bigger problem and needs to be addressed, people seem to choose to ignore it. On the other hand, U.S. companies such as Tom’s Shoes and Amazon.com have actively focused on global poverty through various supporting programs. It is time U.S. citizens pay attention to the bigger picture rather than just the latest trends in fashion.

– Phong Duc Pham

Sources: The Magazine of Santa Clarita, National Center for Biotechnology Information
Photo: The Paris Apartment

phonebloks
To take a recent idiom touted by T-Mobile’s new phone upgrade scheme, “Two years is too long” aptly summarizes the techno-age’s obsession with owning only the newest and smartest electronics available on the market.

Dutch designer Dave Hakkens believes that this current consumer model is wasteful and is negatively impacting the global environment. In mid-September, Hakkens launched an Internet video campaign to gain support and global interest for his highly imaginative solution to the exacerbating global e-waste problem. His dream? Phonebloks–a smartphone with modular components that will ideally transcend smartphone upgrade schemes because it will be the only smartphone one would ever need.

Smart phones are habitually swept out of vogue or tossed out due to a single malfunctioning component. For instance, the Wi-Fi chip inside a smartphone can become unsoldered from its socket from either physical trauma or environmental exposure, depriving only its Wi-Fi capabilities. The entire unit would be swapped out for an entirely new handset or the latest version, instead of having the single malfunctioning component, the Wi-Fi chip in this case, replaced.

Trashed smartphones account for more than 65 percent of America’s electronic e-waste among televisions and computers. According to the EPA’s most recent report, in the year 2009 American smartphone users tossed out more than 141 million mobile devices; 11.7 million (a mere 8 percent) of these units were collected for recycling and reuse.

What happened to the rest of the 129 million of the units left over? They were relinquished to the electronic waste stream, not only building up in landfills around the country, but also contributing to the millions of tons of electronic waste ending up in the developing nations of Asia and Africa.

The world’s poorest peoples rely on these toxic waste piles for dangerous jobs and sources of meager income. Containing lead, mercury, cadmium, and other physiologically harmful heavy metals, this toxic waste is an accepted environment of living. And the bleak reality–the responsibility of breaking down and sorting through this toxic and chemically hazardous equipment falls upon the shoulders of these countries’ children.

Disturbing numbers and conditions such as these serve the inspiration behind Hakken’s Phonebloks concept, “I don’t like the direction electronics are heading. They get more disposable and get a shorter life with every model. This gives a lot of e-waste.”

In practice, Hakken’s handset would consist of a large touchscreen and detachable tech components with electrical processor pins that will click in place, much like Legos, to the housing chassis (back) of the phone. That way, when a single component or “Blok” malfunctions, that Blok can be easily taken out and replaced with a new Blok.

Similarly, Hakken’s concept allows for micro upgrades of the components, as well as personal customization of the smartphones to fit any user’s needs. For example, users could opt for camera Bloks bigger and better than the standard, or for Bloks with more memory, and even Bloks offering speedier data processing to appease the speed demon inside every smartphone user.

As with any revolutionary idea, however, critics have cited potential setbacks and expressed hesitance for actualizing Hakken’s Phonebloks. The problem of the design’s feasibility from an electronic engineering perspective, as well as the potential high costs of production impacting the possibility of offering such a product at a reasonable price, are only some of the roadblocks Dave Hakkens will encounter in realizing this dream. But that is exactly what the critics of Thomas Edison’s practical light bulb had to say nearly two centuries ago and what Steve Jobs went through to launch Apple.

Hope, as well as crowd support, for Phonebloks remains strong–Hakkens has mentioned that there are interested companies already in contact with him.

Even if the project fails to gain headwind, the realities of e-waste and how it negatively affects the people of developing regions still gain a voice. Perhaps the idea of an environmentally friendlier modular phone is something that big cellular companies will consider adopting in the future designs of their phones.

– Malika Gumpangkum

Sources: Phonebloks, CNN, Forbes, EPA, RT
Photo: CNN Tech

government_shutdown
The U.S. government shutdown 2013 is costing taxpayers an estimated $300 million dollars a day, according to HIS Global Insight. This cost just covers the economic loss from government worker furloughs. However, if the United States spent this $300 million on resources and technology for the developing world instead, this is what could be done:

  • 150,000,000 life straws could be distributed, which would provide direct clean drinking water to developing countries.
  • 6,000,000 starving children could receive Plumpy’nut, a malnutrition supplement, for two months.
  • 4,000,000 Hippo Rollers, a wheelbarrow like water carrying system could be delivered to developing countries, allowing for water to be carried more efficiently and preventing injury from carrying water.
  • 545,454,545 Unijet vaccines, disposable vaccines that avoid reuse of unsterile needles, could be provided – they are so simple to use that they require no training to administer.
  • 15,000,000,000 Peepooples disposable waste bags that quickly turn waste into biodegradable material could be distributed. Peepooples prevent waste spreading and contaminating environments.

Keep in mind, this is estimated with just one day of losses from the government shutdown.

– Nicole Yancy

Sources: NBC News, Tree Hugger: Clean Water, Tree Hugger: Hippo Water Roller, PeePoople, WHO, Independent
Photo: International Business Times