Waste disposal is a world-wide problem. Developed countries are having to reduce the frequency of garbage collection from households and businesses. Developing countries have to come to terms with the ever-increasing amount of garbage that their societies are producing and disposing of. In a country like Thailand which has traditionally wrapped and sold small food items in banana leaves, the alternative use of plastic bags has been seen as a sign of ‘civilized progress’ to such an extent that now (at last, many would say) authorities and communities are having to face up to the fact that plastic bags do not disappear as banana leaves do.
Recycling is the buzz-word that is beginning to be heard more frequently in small rural communities like Phana and significant steps have already been taken to recycle more and more of the waste we accumulate here. We are also a model for ‘zero waste’ practices that are slowly being introduced nationwide. And yet in Don Chao Poo we have significant problem and a relatively rare one, I imagine.
Phana is proud of the monkeys of Don Chao Poo and the forest itself but we are struggling to contain the waste that accumulates in the forest. Struggling, but winning the battle. Last year, a small band of volunteers filled 110 large black bin bags with litter picked up in the forest. This was litter that had accumulated over several years and much of it had been swept into the undergrowth with leaf litter in the clear-ups which precede municipal events in the forest. Most of this litter is associated with the monkeys. Food for the monkeys is brought into the forest in plastic bags and often the monkeys will snatch these bags and make off with them. When litter has been placed in dustbins it has later been raided by the monkeys and taken as playthings into the deep parts of the forest. A small amount of the litter has been human-related – some people go into the forest and spend time in one or other of the wooden salas, drinking from cartons, eating packaged crisps, smoking cigarettes and disposing of the empty packets, and so on.
This year, the ‘litter problem’ is being kept under control. The municipality have given the responsibility of clearing litter to two men who visit the forest for a couple of hours every day. On two or three days a week they also scatter unhusked rice for the monkeys. Most of the dustbins have been removed because although they were used they were not often emptied, or at least not before the monkeys themselves had emptied them and spread the contents far and wide.
But dustbins ARE necessary to store litter temporarily, and there is evidence that most of the visitors who come to feed the monkeys would put their plastic bags in a dustbin if there was one nearby.
So the search has been going on to find a suitably monkey-proof dustbin. Singapore is supposed to have cracked the problem, a much bigger one for them because they need to provide monkey-proof bins or residents living within the home range of a large number of monkeys. Residents of Singapore are not so sure that their bins are truly monkey-proof, but from what we have seen they are a great improvement on most of the bins in Phana.
We saw two models. These were at the McRitchie Reservoir Park.
The large lid and narrow surround to it provide only a small foothold for a monkey and the weight of the lid makes it very difficult for a monkey to open. However, there are some reports of two monkeys seemingly working together who have managed to gain access to the garbage inside. It seems likely that the two monkeys are not working co-operatively but both want to get at the garbage.
Here is a different, older model
Nor this bin does seem to be truly monkey-proof as you can see from the lower three pictures. However, on some forums I have read people complaining that the handles become fouled by monkeys, birds, anything to provide an excuse for not using them, perhaps. If a monkey did succeed in opening this bin, it is most likely that it would then fall into the bag below and be trapped there.
How often do you go searching for something that later you find has been right under your nose all the time? Not long after we got back from researching bins in Singapore, a visit to Phana District Hospital led us to these:
Phana District Hospital was built on land that was previously designated as part of Don Chao Poo Forest. The monkeys still think it is part of the forest, and anyway, like nomads everywhere, they don’t recognize borders or take any notice of them. We asked the Director of the hospital, Dr Patamapong, about the bins and he said that they had been made by the maintenance staff of the hospital and that they were in the process of designing and producing an improved model. In fact, this model seems pretty good to me. There is very little purchase for a monkey planning to get at the contents of the bin, and the flap swings heavily on the hinge at the top and as with the second of the Singapore bins, the internal storage in a black bag is below the reach of a monkey. Again, perhaps, there is the possibility of a monkey getting in but not being able to get out, but this possibility seems very remote.
We are now going to liaise with the hospital staff and we will work together on a new and hopefully improved design. The hospital needs to replace these bins even if the design does not change. And they have offered to produce bins for us to place in Don Chao Poo, whether the design is the same as theirs or not. So we may be on the way to making further progress in keeping Don Chao Poo a clean and pleasant place, albeit we will be limiting or eliminating one of the pleasures that the monkeys now enjoy: playing with plastic bags and spreading them around the forest.