(Waste) Crisis Under (COVID-19) Crisis

Updated: Sep 10, 2020



From last year 2019 until now, you all know well from your direct experience that how big the impact of COVID-19 pandemic is to yourself and other people around the world. It started from Wuhan, China and spread worldwide. As we are in the communication era that has no boundary, people travel to make businesses all the time. It is like “two-sided coin.” When one side brings such hasty benefits, as everything has cause and effect, the effect on the other side of the coin is also surfacing. It is the law of nature that goes along with each era or we could refer it to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.


While the pandemic is spreading around the world, environmentalists are presenting an interest fact on the world conference. That is the reduction in the amount of air pollution in the world’s big cities, which reflects a positive effect on global warming. For instance, China’s air pollution has decreased by 70%. Though from the previous theoretical data, whenever we had campaigns, environmentalists never expect air pollution to drop this much. In other words, in the normal condition according to the world’s industrial growth or people’s lifestyle at present, it would be impossible for this to happen. But in the end, the nature reveals its power that makes the impossible possible.


However, recently Khun Suparit wrote an article for the readers who follow KBO Earth FB page and website that we should not be happy with it yet because the decline of air pollution in big cities is only the state of “temporary” or “unavoidable”. It means most people act “unavoidably”, but they do not “submit”. When the pandemic starts to fade, the mind that is already under stress and desire will be released like a racing horse soaring out into the competition field.


Now, let’s us see what is happening during the state of unavoidable? Due to the lockdown situation around the world, people are restricted to stay at home. All outside activities are changed to be in-house activities. We probably used to hear from news and other channels that one activity that substantially became notable is “Online activity.” It is surely that information in form of digital data will be proliferated. The approximation based on statistical data found that usage of digital data is two times higher. In normal situation, KBO Earth already campaigns for the reduction of this usage because it will tremendously worsen global warming crisis.


Don’ forget that there is not only just online activity, but also offline activity as we still have to make a living. These two activities will finally create “wastes.” So, I would like to clearly distinguish between these two wastes as follows.


1. Online Waste


As a result of lockdown, household members are restricted to stay at home. The head of the house needs to work on the internet. Data that is normally created in the office now is created at home before transmitted to the office and then to other places according to the type of work. All meetings are conducted through video call or conference call. Consequently, the server and data center need to operate at heavier workload and need more back-up storage for data that will eventually become waste. As times goes by, they will be accumulated in Zombie server.


In the meantime, children also need to study through online channel or receive homework from their teacher to do at home. But as you may already know that the time they spend to study online is not that long as compared to when they play game online, and many of them choose to play all day. This makes the server and data center to drastically operate much heavier. It is undeniable that there will be data waste like a record of stage progress, awards, or bug in the game that need huge space of data center.


For any household members who do not work like a housewife or elders, when they are in a lockdown situation, they would feel lonely and try to maintain the relationship within a family and friends through online society such as by video call. This activity also uses digital data from data center along with data waste like other activities as well.


When all work is done, everybody will have a family time together for meal or relaxing, but when they can’t go outside like before, they will turn to online entertainment instead. This activity will cause the accumulation of digital data, which is like “incessant streaming.” If any family members can’t decide which movie to watch, it will create in-house “Cinema Square.” Digital data will be heavily used. This is known as “Super Data Streaming,” which will heavily produce data waste. This can be reflected from the recent news that business providers need to reduce transmission quality to serve this tremendous usage.


2. Offline Waste


All online activities can’t be proceeded if the body of the person doesn’t receive enough energy. Due to the unavoidable state, people are unwillingly forced to stay at home. This made them want something in return or what we call “compensation,” causing the increase in consumption than before. As in long term, those who don’t have financial problems will have health problems because they often consume but don’t exercise or move a lot. On the other hand, those who received unpaid leave will not only have financial problems but also both mental and health problems.


Under lockdown condition as a policy to prevent the spread of pandemic, consumer behavior in purchasing food or other necessary stuffs is restrained under limited time and social distancing. Everything needs to be fast and convenient. So, at this point we also receive another free item which is “wastes” from this convenience. Million tons of parcels from online purchase, meals packed in boxes or plastic bags from restaurants, wastes from self-protection such as sanitized marks, gloves, alcohol gel bottle, PPE and tissue paper are all wastes that have been exponentially accumulated from our daily life.


Please think about it. These wastes are produced every day in every country around the world for months. So, how much the amount of wastes has already been accumulated?


After COVID-19, what will happen?


When there is a lockdown for some length of time, we gain new experience from this situation and it will surely be adapted to our daily life in the future. For instance, when people who are not used to do online shopping have their first experience during COVID-19 crisis, they will see its convenience and feel confident to do it more often. For employees who can work from home, the company will be more opened to work from home or home office policy, including a meeting during or outside office hours. Schools and universities will apply more of online education to their students.


Let’s recall at the beginning of this article, I mentioned “a racing horse under stress and desire from lockdown will be ready to soar out into the competition field.” I want to emphasize that this is scary than any other things because those developed or rich countries will perceive this crisis as their biggest loss, and they want to “take back.” Some countries may see that this is their chance to take the lead, to be number one and will try their hardest. So, the effect on environment that will follow is scarier than anything.


What is the meaning of all of this? If we calculate in term of mathematics from both online and offline wastes that had increased two or three time during COVID-19 crisis, though the situation will be stable and peaceful afterwards, human behavior and new experience will still exist. And this behavior will create more wastes even than before. Although lockdown policy is revoked, the waste that has been produced doesn’t disappear. On the other hand, it will continuously increase from the time when everything returns to normal for at least 30-80%.

This is a permanent increase from new behavior and what we need to be aware and be prepared.


So how can we prepare and solve this problem?


The only answer to sustainably prepare and solve the problem is to create “awareness” and “consciousness.” They are the only tool to help reduce waste that came with the pandemic, but they will be fruitful when we all do it altogether. For powerful leaders or government officers, they should seriously be aware and conscious with this issue. Everybody needs to do it and makes it better like the time we fight COVID-19 altogether till we received an initial victory from low number of new infected people.


The reason I concluded as above is due to my experience from a project set-up – “Gasification.” I received knowledge and experience that I would like to share parts of it with you.


All waste in this world, parts of it can be reused. Some parts can be transformed into agricultural products such as fertilizer. Some can be transformed into various types of energy by using advanced technology, which produces very little pollution, and the remaining will need to be eradicated.


In waste eradication, the effectiveness of the power system in the eradication process is approximately about 30% of total energy used. That is after using energy to get rid of waste we will get only 30% of the total energy in return from the waste removal process. For example, 1 kilowatt of electrical power is used to burn waste, about 30% or 300 watts will be the energy in return. Even though we can use technology to remove all waste, but we still need to use electrical power to get rid of them (it is one of the factors for global warming). So, the correct logic is to “reduce waste from the origin,” not improving the technology to remove them.


I strongly confirm that the technology we attain today is advanced enough to help remove the accumulated waste. Nonetheless, the problem is not with the knowledge and technology but more with the “Benefit,” ”Management” and “True consciousness in reducing global warming.”


Additionally, I would like to answer the question that is close to all of us. Why Thailand still has a lot of waste? Why is it so difficult to set up a waste disposal plant or transform waste into energy?


The answer is the same to what I mentioned earlier. “The problem is not with the technology but more with the benefit, management and true consciousness in reducing global warming.” Originally, old people feel that waste is disgusting. They burned or buried them like in the old time. If you are Bangkokian and aged more than 50 years old, you were just in time to see a mountain pile of garbage at the place now called “JJ Park.” On the other hand, today’s garbage is like a gold mine that people overlook. I still remember when the government announced to support waste-energy transformation process, our neighboring countries immediately came to buy our landfill. When there is benefit involved, everything seemed to go slow until mutual agreement has been reached. This is true and it is happening.


However, I still have hope for Thai waste removal process. According to my experience when I visit Xi’an, China, when I walked out from Terracotta Warrior site, I drank water from a plastic bottle and there was an old lady came and asked for my bottle. After I gave it to her, I looked around and didn’t see even a single piece of trash on the floor. This clearly shows the benefit of waste removal process in China. For the thing that we call waste and ready to throw it away, there will be a group of people who see it as a treasure.


This is a WIN-WIN situation that I am waiting for it to happen in Thailand.


Article By Lt. Pitak Tiranakul

Translation By Chortip Oveerawong

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