Every day, around 200,000 Thai citizens gather outside the royal palace in Bangkok to mourn King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the monarch who ruled over Thailand for 70 years before his death Oct. 13.
They leave behind their condolences, patriotic sentiments, and hopes for a peaceful future. And they also leave an enormous pile of trash behind them — a few hundred thousand pounds of it every day.
Food, paper, and styrofoam boxes have piled up to such heights outside the palace where the 88-year-old king lived, that this week the Thai government had to announce a new cleanup plan for anyone paying their respects.
From now on, those visiting the palace to mourn the king won’t be allowed in with foam food containers. Instead, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said volunteers who gather around the palace to help serve the visitors will be required to serve food in biodegradable boxes instead. The BMA is also installing water stations to allow visitors to refill their own bottles instead of throwing theirs on the ground.
Although some food is being given out to the public for free, about 40 percent of it has gone to waste, after it’s left half-eaten outside. An opinion piece published in the Bangkok Post last Friday urged Thai residents to join Trash Hero Thailand, a volunteer group working to clean up the mess.
“Where there are people, there’s always garbage,” the article said. “Amid the heartfelt scenes of people solemnly showing their love and respect to their beloved His Majesty King Bhumibol, pictures of bottles, paper, food scraps and all sorts of trash have also become familiar.”
And if the trash buildup isn’t cleaned up soon, the problem is bound to worsen: The official mourning period is due to last for an entire year.
Still, the trash may be one of the smaller concerns facing the country after the king’s death. Thai Police Chief Jakthip Chaijinda told reporters in Bangkok this week that since the monarch’s death, 20 people have been arrested for insulting the royal family. Under Thailand’s criminal code, insulting or threatening any member of the royal family is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
“For lèse-majesté cases, if people don’t want to live in Thailand they should go abroad,” the police chief told reporters in Bangkok this week. “If they don’t have money for the airfare I will pay for it, they can ask me to buy their plane ticket.”
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