Rural Thai community creates value from waste

19. September 2014, 14:54
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Villagers from one small community in northern Thailand have joined forces with a government organization to come up with novel ways to transform waste materials from the silk industry into a range of eco-friendly skin care products, generating supplementary income and improving the local environment in the process.

The Chumtabong community in Nakhon Sawan province lies at the heartland of Thailand’s silk producing region. The traditional techniques used in Thai silk production are thought to have come to the country from China several millennia ago. Today Thai silk is internationally famous for its special qualities, unique patterns and rich tones. Silk from the Chumtabong area is particularly well known for its lustrous texture.

But nowadays, the community’s all-natural skin-care products made from silk protein are also making waves following support from the Biodiversity-Based Economy Development Office or "BEDO", a public organization whose principal aims are to create employment, income and opportunities for local communities and promote the sustainable management and conservation of biodiversity resources.

The community’s highlight products - silk protein soap, shampoo, conditioner and skin lotion – are actually produced from "silk gum", a byproduct of the silk production process. Without recognizing the value of the silk gum, the local villagers in the past boiled silk cocoons in hot water to separate the gel-like material from the cocoon before undertaking the silk-reeling process.

The silk gum, a waste material that has been discarded by the locals for years, is rich in sericin and fibroin proteins, whose revitalizing benefits have long been recognized. Sericin protein contains up to 18 types of amino acids and has been shown to stimulate collagen building in skin cells and healing of scar tissue. It also displays anti-bacterial properties and can alleviate skin inflammation. Sericin finds applications in biomedicine, the production of supplements, ophthalmology, contact lenses, healing products for chronic wounds, and in hair and skin rejuvenation products.

Initially the Chumtabong community received technological know-how from the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology, which enabled the community to convert the waste materials from silk production into silk protein soap bars.

Subsequently, BEDO visited the community to collect further information about the needs of the villagers, evaluate the potential of the local products and provide additional funding. BEDO also encouraged the villagers to maximize their use of local resources and wisdom so that the community might develop into a biodiversity-based economy.

With BEDO’s support, the Chumtabong Community has been able to expand its range of products to include silk protein and herbal based soaps, liquid soaps and lotions with the ability to deeply nourish the skin and stimulate the building of collagen in skin cells, as well as shampoos and conditioners specially formulated to promote naturally soft and silky hair.

The agency has also provided assistance in marketing the products, particularly through the Fah Sai Gallery for community products located in the Thai Government Complex in Bangkok, boosting the supplementary income of many of the local households. Products from Chumtabong display the well-recognized "BioEconomy Promotion Mark", an official stamp which endorses products based on their local content and environment-friendly manufacturing process.

Besides increasing community incomes, the Chumtabong Community project has helped raise environmental awareness. Part of the income from proceeds of sales is used for funding environment and resource conservation activities, such as expanding forest areas, adding green areas in the community itself, and helping reduce global warming.

These activities have helped earn the Chumtabong Community a reputation as one of Thailand’s model rural communities, applying sustainable and environmentally-responsible economic development to elevate the living standards of villagers whilst improving the local environment. (Lawrence Neal, The Nation, Thailand)

  • Villagers inspect cocoons during the silk production process.
    foto: the nation

    Villagers inspect cocoons during the silk production process.

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