It surprises some visitors how clean the streets of Bangkok and Thailand can be. Any rubbish left on the side of the road – like plastic bottles, beer cans and cardboard boxes – mysteriously disappear in a short period of time. After the last general election, the thousands of billboards and posters were mainly gone by the next day. If they ever had a ticker-tape parade here, then the streets would be cleared in no time. And all of this is done with no help from the local council.
In Samut Prakan, and other cities across Thailand, there is an army of unsung heroes. They wander the streets with their tricycles, called saleng in Thai, and a battered pair of scales looking for anything that can be recycled or sold on to someone else. Some are no better than scavengers sifting through the dirt looking for nails or bolts, while others, looking more respectable, call out “Any old things to sell?”. It was one of the latter group of people that came down our soi this afternoon.
The local council come and collect our garbage every day. All we have to do is put the garbage sacks by the side of the road early in the morning. For this service, they charge us a princely sum of 30 baht per month. In Bangkok it used to be 40 baht per month (about US$1) but the locals complained so much that the council had to bring the price down to only 20 baht! No sign of that happening here. But I am not complaining. It is possible to make more than that if you sort the rubbish first.
As you can see from these pictures, the recycle guy, as I call him, has a pair of scales which he uses to weigh the rubbish. Paper goes for 3 baht per kilo. Glass bottles for 5 baht per kilo. Plastic bottles for 6 baht per kilo. And cans go for 1 baht for every two cans. After weighing all of our rubbish, he announced that he would pay us 120 baht. Not bad. No wonder the garbage collectors go through the rubbish looking for anything that can be recycled. You can see large bags on top of the garbage trucks containing their spoils for the day. They probably make more money from this than their real job.
I asked our recycle guy how much money he would earn on an average day. He said that he would normally get 200-300 baht. However, sometimes he was lucky and he found something that was worth a lot more. As I didn’t really need the money as much as he did, I told him he could just take everything for free. He was actually doing me the favour of clearing the area under my stairs. I think to make things much easier next time; I will buy more garbage bins so that I can sort the rubbish more effectively.
If you ever find yourself in Thailand for an extended period of time, give a thought to the people who make a living from your rubbish. Sort everything into separate bags so that they don’t have to sift through your smelly rubbish in order to find things they can recycle. Then just leave these bags by the side of the road (or even in designated garbage bins) – they will soon disappear.