Thailand – How to make corporations change: bother them, then give them solutions

By Nanticha Ocharoenchai

When Ralyn “Lilly” Satidtanasarn was 8, she went to a beach in Phuket. She didn’t play in the water or build sandcastles like she had hoped to—all she could focus on was the garbage that lined up the coast that looked nothing like the photos she had seen of the ‘dream paradise’ on the internet. From water bottles to toothbrushes, all this plastic trash could have come straight from anyone’s home, and it wasn’t going to stop at the shoreline.

“I [had] watched this one video in class of this turtle choking on plastic, and these seagulls have their necks wrapped by plastic,” Lilly said. The little girl grew up loving nature and wildlife, and knowing each plastic straw could impale a turtle and hurt it, just as much as any plastic bag could entangle a dolphin and kill it, she wasn’t going to wait for anyone to clean it up.

She did it herself.

On that day, Lilly and her mom began picking up trash around the place that was meant to be their holiday destination.

“I had this dream of this dolphin swallowing something, and I think it was plastic,” Lilly said. “[The dolphins] are so innocent and they can’t do anything about it. And it’s all because of us. We don’t help and we don’t fix the problem.”

The little girl did her fair share of homework, learning more about how plastic was linked to climate change from her teachers and the internet. It didn’t take long before she began limiting her plastic use, then her parents’, then her other family members’ and her friends’.

Thailand is one of the six biggest contributors of ocean waste in the world; plastic waste contaminates ecosystems and kills marine life. A year passed, and nine-year-old Lilly felt like she could do more than reduce the plastic consumption of herself and people around her—she could tell governments and corporations, the big decision makers and the major polluters, to do it, too.

Lilly cleaning up trash on a Thai river | Photo creds: Sasie Smittipatana

So she began writing letters to them. “Right now. Right now is better than anytime that we can do it,” Lilly wrote.
After she sent her first letter to the Prime Minister—it took so long Lilly had forgotten about what she wrote— the girl received a response from the government office. They thought it was a homework assignment.

“[The government officer] said there was no ban about it …  so she told us to go to companies who create and use plastic,” Lilly recalled. “So that’s what we did.”

Lilly and her mom went on to big retailers such as Tesco, Big C, Central Group, The Mall, CP and 7-11 to present them with ways to use less plastic. It just the little girl and her PowerPoint slideshow, in a room full of adults—having her mom around makes her nervous, so she prefers to present alone. What she told them was simply to stop giving out plastic straws (because we’re not babies anymore) and swap plastic bags for reusable totes (the pretty kinds!).

While some appointments were possible because of her mom’s help, it didn’t work all the time. How does a 9-year-old get executives from Thailand’s biggest corporations to listen to her presentation and stop using plastic?

Well, call their customer service center and complain. Force the operator to tell you the email addresses or phone numbers of the most “important people”, and force these people to “get everyone together”. If that doesn’t work, email more people and call the customer service line again and again.

If they think you’re a kid or think it’s a prank call and hang up on you, multiple times, try again. You can repeat this step on the way to school, on the way home, before dinner, or after homework. And try several numbers. Once they finally pick up, introduce yourself and tell them it’s not a class assignment. Tell them it’s serious and tell them you need to talk. Make them arrange a meeting.

If that still doesn’t work, call their emergency service hotline.

“Hello, I have a very serious complaint. It’s killing the environment, and it’s also killing people. It’s plastic. Please stop using it. I’d like to schedule a meeting with your ‘important staff’ so we can talk about stuff.” Clear and concise. Works every time. Eventually. If you try it enough times.

And if that still doesn’t work, try emailing them. Write with “forceful, polite” words as a concerned customer. If none of that worked, get other people to complain. Go to your local supermarket and complain, then tell random strangers to complain too.

“I feel really small compared to other people who can do stuff, and I’m worried they won’t listen to me. But I’m trying to get all my friends together, because we’re stronger together,” Lilly said,

“People can deny one voice, but if hundreds of people shout all together demanding change, they will listen.”

So basically, HOW TO MAKE CORPORATIONS STOP GIVING PLASTIC, lessons from an 11- year-old:

  1. Keep bothering them. Call their customer service center. Email their customer complaint agent. Visit their customer care counter. If you keep annoying them, one day, they’ll have to listen because they can’t stand you anymore. 2. Stop using plastic. Become the change you want to see. Change yourself and show other people what they can be.
  1. Guilt-trip them. Show them pictures of sad baby dolphins and make them feel bad. No one likes feeling bad.
  1. Offer solutions. Show companies how they can change. Help them become better. Tell them what you want.
  1. Get others involved. Make your friends change their habits. Get strangers to complain. Make noise, get attention. Have everyone make noise, get action.

When Lilly first thought of fighting plastic waste, her mom thought it was a phase. Three years past, and Thailand’s biggest companies are listening. Major retailers including Central, Big C, 7- Eleven, Villa and The Mall have all implemented no-bag days and campaigns throughout each month.

“I kinda created a competition,” Lilly joked.

Even the government is listening. Thailand has finally taken International No-Plastic Day, every July 3rd, seriously. The Education Ministry is currently considering to include eco-education into Thailand’s curriculum from primary to high school.

So how did an an 11-year old girl make governments and corporations change the way they did business? She kept calling them and never stopped until they picked up.