Monday, June 27, 2011

Fight the Foam

A golden stupa shines in the steam rising from the food carts surrounding it. Hungry shoppers surround the carts, taking hot pad thai, kabobs, and curries away in what look like Styrofoam containers. Plastic cups filled with fresh fruit smoothies, a divine treat for less than a dollar, and bottled water hydrate the starving masses. Hundreds of people, piles of Styrofoam in the trash, plastics galore; an environmental nightmare come true. Or, at least, it was. A banner hangs between trees, illuminated by the waning sunlight: No Foam For Food is printed in big green letters. Below it reads in Thai but a nearby picture, a Styrofoam bowl with a devil's tail and a red X cutting through, says all that’s necessary.

Chiang Mai’s Sunday Walking Street is one of the city’s premier attractions: from 5 P.M. to around 11 every Sunday, hundreds of local merchants set up shop on Ratchadamnoen Road, bringing hordes of eager shoppers to the old city street. With all the commotion surrounding the market, not to mention the foreigners richly disposal income, local food vendors also set up shop around temple Phun Ohn to feed the masses. Known for the quality of their food and work anywhere mentality, these family stands offer traditional, amazing Thai dishes at unbelievable prices. They also create a tragic amount of trash: local film production and advocacy group Muang Muang discovered that each month, the Walking Street food vendors generate over 24,000 pieces of Styrofoam waste. Calculate the life span of each piece at around five thousand years and you have an event who’s footprint remains on the landscape long after the shoppers have gone home. To reduce this impact, Muang Muang formed an alliance with Wat Phun Ohn and created the No Foam for Food project, a public campaign aimed at eliminating foam waste and implementing a recycling system in the Walking Street food areas. Their action is a stirring example of modern environmentalism in the midst of tradition and tourism.

Not far from the food carts, near the tables and trees guarding them, stands the Walking Street recycling area. As a large fenced box surrounded by bins, all labeled with colorful signs, this area stands in contrast to the laissez – faire attitude much of the city has towards recycling: throw your plastics and cans away, the homeless / destitute will sort it later for money. By making efficient recycling available near the food, No Foam for Food has made the Wat Phun Ohn eating area a mix of ancient and modern. Couple this busy green scene with bio chan - aoy containers, a completely biodegradable styro – substitute now required at the nearby eateries, and you’ve got a temple that has survived the ages surrounded by an enterprise that won’t damage the future.

Muang Muang has their sights set on expanding No Foam for Food to the entire Walking Street. Banners popping up around other eating areas on Ratchadamnoen tell of their ambition and drive. It’s the Walking Street of today, strolling into a greener tomorrow.

*For more information on No Foam for Food check out them out on Facebook or on their website at:

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