Spearheaded by 12-year-old Ralyn “Lilly” Satidtanasarn—Thailand’s answer to Greta Thunberg—Bye Bye Plastic Bags Thailand is pushing for action against climate change at the highest levels. This group of middle-schoolers is organized and growing—it has led a citywide march, pressed businesses to ditch single-use plastics, and even gotten in the ear of the prime minister. Lilly talked to BK about how the group is fighting for change. By Craig Sauers


Why were you inspired you to act now?

My family has always been very environmentally active. I knew from a young age that something was wrong. Wherever you go in Thailand, you always see plastic. You can’t avoid it. My mom has always taught me that everything has feelings. When people or animals get hurt or something bad happens to the environment, I feel like we need to act.

What’s the big problem in Thailand?

Less than nine percent of waste in gets recycled. But as you know, there are the three Rs—reduce, reuse and recycle—and it’s in that order for a reason. We have to reduce first, then reuse and then recycle. If we still produce and create waste, and just recycle, nothing is going to change. We have to cut this problem at the root. 

What can we do?

Urge companies to stop producing single-use plastics. Everyone has to stand up together—retailers, customers, producers—because companies don’t want to do it alone. It takes teamwork to create change.

Who have you met with so far?

Central, the Mall Group, Tesco, Big C, Villa, the minister of natural resources and the environment, and the prime minister [Prayuth Chan-ocha]. My mom has a lot of connections. If we know a friend who works for a certain company, we ask him or her for the contact information for the highest-ranking person that they know in the company. We request a meeting until they accept it. We keep on emailing, keep on asking for meetings until they change their policies. 

How did you get a meeting with the prime minister?

We went to a meeting, kind of—more like a big event held by SCG. So many people were there, and we were trying to spread the word. The prime minister was there in the afternoon, and I got to speak with him a little about what we’re all doing and how we can change Thailand. 

What did you tell him?

That we have to stop everything that we’re doing wrong. At school, we’re always told that we shouldn’t be afraid of our mistakes. So why are we afraid of acting now? Even if we lose money because of it, we have to choose our planet over profit. He told me, “Yes, we’ll try.” Then I heard on the news that he had a big meeting with other ministers about addressing climate change.  

What changes have resulted from your work?

Most companies have stopped using plastic once or twice a month. We’re slowly pushing them to one week, two weeks, three weeks. 

What will it take to turn sustainability into more than just a trend?

Culture is one of the main avenues for change. It’s not okay to cut a line or walk out into the street without clothes. We have to make single-use plastics socially unacceptable. My grandma didn’t have them when she was growing up. If she didn’t need plastic, why do we?