Awards 2004 The P&O Nedlloyd Award for Infrastructure

The P&O Nedlloyd Award for Infrastructure

This is given to a company or organisation which has assisted economic and social development through the provision of appropriate, sustainable and environmentally complementary transport systems or other infrastructure.

The winner: Wongpanit Garbage Recycle Separation Plant

Receiving the award

"Waste dumps," says Somthai Wongcharoen , Thailand's king of recycling, "are like valuable mines. They are miracle mines that are never emptied because people fill them every day. They are mines that never need exploration or development. They can be found everywhere."

One of Dr Somthai's many waste-miners is Boonsong Phookhasorn. He rides a red tricycle from community to community in Northern Thailand, buying and collecting paper, plastic, metal and other reusable waste from households, wastebins and a university. He sells the waste to the Somthai company, Wongpanit, in the city of Phitsanulok, making about 10 a day, two-thirds of it profit, enough to support his family.

Some of the tricyclists have been on waste-collection courses at Wongpanit. Others are poor and handicapped people to whom Wongpanit has given tricycles. All are following in the path of Dr Somthai himself who, on leaving school in 1974, set out with his wife and a pick-up truck into the countryside around Phitsanulok and bought waste from children for sweets. He sold it for about 30 a day.

By 1977 he had his own junk shop. Now he has a plant at Tha Thong, Phitsanulok, in which he has invested 750,000. Besides Tha Thong, Wongpanit has nearly 50 branches including one in Thailand 's neighbour, Laos.

Tha Thong posts the prices for waste on a large signboard, weighs the waste it is offered and pays according to the pricelist. It then sorts, breaks up, presses and packs 80 to 100 tonnes of waste a day: paper, glass, metal, kapok mattresses, PVC piping, batteries, light bulbs, electrical equipment, three types of rubber and several types and seven colours of plastic. It turns over about 3 million a year and cleans waste out of the Phitsanulok environment, while providing employment for 500 families. Large volume lowers costs.

Wongpanit Garbage Recyle Separation Plant

To achieve this, Somthai Wongcharoen has run training courses for communities and about 1,500 business people and enlisted the help of non-government organisations. He mobilises everyone: not just tricyclists and householders but pick-up drivers, scrap traders, rubbish-tip scavengers, children, the municipal refuse service, even schools and temples. Wongpanit even imports waste, including paper from the United States.

One way people can meet their obligation to provide for their temple's monks is to give it their waste. Communities and schools can make money by running waste banks and selling in volume to Wongpanit. Pupils learn about waste management.

Wongpanit is encouraging people to use red worm to convert food and vegetable waste into compost, an idea imported from neighbouring Laos . Dr Somthai thinks that waste should be the responsibility of people, not just of the government. Constant campaigning is necessary to persuade people that waste is valuable.

The shells from coconuts, a local staple food, used to be a public nuisance. Wongpanit gives poor people the task of roasting them, in old oil drums or in holes in the ground. The product is activated carbon, used for treating wastewater, absorbing smells and making pencils. Wongpanit also gets villagers to take the caps (made from a different plastic) from bottles in the waste. Handicapped people remove the foil from inside the caps.

From the Tha Thong plant, fish sauce bottles go back to fish sauce factories, whisky bottles to distilleries. Iron and steel go to the Nam Heng Steel Company, glass to the Bangkok Glass Company, wood to furniture makers, waste oil, solvents and contaminated cloth to cement works. Old battery acid is used in wastewater treatment. Wongpanit finds a market for just about anything.

Dr Somthai intends to expand Wongpanit throughout Thailand and out into Asia . He aims to be buying 30 per cent of Thailand's waste by 2007.

The judges say

We felt this was an excellent example of a good sustainable development programme, which will have raised a huge degree of awareness throughout Thailand and its neighbouring countries. A fine example of replicable best practice, that is both self-started and self-developing. Managing waste and recycling is an important component of the infrastructure - a prerequisite for high standards in social and economic development. "Strong commitment to poverty reduction and social cohesion - waste collection as something that can 'bring people to work together' for a purpose that extends beyond making money"

Wongpanit Garbage Recycle Separation Plant,
19/9 Moo3 Phitsanulok-Bangkhatum Road ,
Tha Thong Sub-district , City District,
Phitsanulok 65000 , Thailand ;
tel +66-55-284494/231827; fax +66-55-231734;