f you happen to visit Khao Yai National Park in Thailand, please be careful not to litter. Littering in a national park could earn you a stiff punishment. The authorities may make you pay a fine as high as `12 lakh or sentence you to a maximum of five years in prison.
Can you imagine spending time in prison just because you were too lazy to find a trash bin?
I don’t know if this type of punishment is practical on a wide scale. Prisons would quickly get crowded, with entire families needing to share cells. On the positive side, it might allow some long-lost friends to be reunited.
David: “Hey Paul, so nice to see you. What are you in here for?”
Paul: “Littering. What about you?”
David: “Littering, too! I threw away an empty beer bottle. What about you?”
Paul: “I threw away my freedom.”
Potential prison sentences may be a deterrent in Thailand, but actually enforcing this punishment may be unrealistic. Perhaps that’s why Thai authorities are trying something different: returning the litter to the culprits.
“I will pick up every single piece of your trash, pack them well in a box and mail it to your home as a souvenir,” Thailand’s environment minister Varawut Silpa-archa wrote in a recent Facebook post.
Now you know why Thailand’s environment minister is so busy: he’s picking up all the trash by himself. In case you don’t believe him, he has posted photos of a box containing empty plastic bottles, cans and snack bags, ready to be shipped to the violators. The box also contains a polite note: “You have forgotten some of your belongings at the Khao Yai National Park. Please let us return these to you.”
This is the type of note I’d love to receive when I forget something in a hotel where I’ve stayed. But hotels usually don’t take the trouble to return lost belongings, except in those rare cases when guests forget something valuable in their rooms, such as their children.
According to a report in the New York Times, the box pictured in Silpa-archa’s Facebook post contains litter that was left in a tent by visitors who had stayed overnight in the park. Park officials tracked down the violators by using equipment rental forms and a prescription bottle. Having all visitors register with their addresses makes it easier to track them down if they do something wrong.
Littering is of particular concern at Khao Yai National Park because it has many animals that may eat the litter and hurt themselves. If you think that potato chips are nutritionally deficient, you should try eating the bag that they come in.
When a bag or wrapper has food residue on it, an animal may swallow it in its entirety. Humans are also capable of doing this, which is why some food manufacturers include instructions like this: “Remove wrapper before eating.”
Littering is just one of many ways that humans add their waste to the environment, damaging not only the health of the planet and its inhabitants, but also its beauty. Punishing people who dispose of trash improperly is one way to combat the problem, but we also need to find ways to reduce the total amount of garbage that we produce. Too many consumer goods are over-packaged these days. When you buy a wide-screen TV, for example, it will come in a cardboard box that you could park your car in.
Some of this packaging is necessary to protect fragile items. But it would be great if we can send the packaging back to the manufacturer, so it can be re-used or recycled. Perhaps we can get Thailand’s environment minister to do that for us. He can include a note like this: “We wanted the TV – not all the packaging. Please let us return it to you.”