Giving Back in Chiang Mai – The Trash Project

My name is Derek Tomlinson and I recently completed a year abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand; studying with the USAC program at Chiang Mai University. Chiang Mai and the university are beautiful, surrounded by nature and mountains that I fell in love with. One of the reasons I fell so in love with the mountains is because I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to intern with the Mae Sa-Kog Ma Biosphere Reserve Office during my second semester at CMU.

Derek Tomlinson, Project Manager for the USAC trash marathon

The Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO designated area within the Doi Suthep-Pui National park, that is monitored and studied for its’ remarkable biodiversity. For my internship my task was to come up with a project that would help either the office or the Reserve; and once I saw what I was going to be working with I knew exactly what I wanted to focus on. I had hiked around on some of the trails and what stuck out to me was all the trash, EVERYWHERE. I knew this had to be fixed.

Derek talking to USAC volunteers

My idea was simple, go out every week and pick up all the trash that was left. On top of this I designed some signs to raise public awareness; I think if you show people that other people really do care about nature then maybe you can get in their heads and make a change. While my weekly collections were making a dent in the amount of trash and spreading some public awareness, it was clear that something bigger had to be done. I thought, why not just ask my friends to come with me one of these weeks, and it turned into a bigger and more positive event than I had ever expected.

A group of USAC students came out to help and we hauled away as many glass bottles and broken sandals that we could carry, plus every sort of trash in between. The look on everybody’s face was amazement when they saw how much we carried out; the park staff was shocked at the sheer amount.

Students collect trash around the Huaykaew Waterfall
USAC students collecting trash in the forest near Mae Sa Waterfall
Local Thai students participate in trash clean up
Ruth Young from DePaul University gives a thumbs up for clean up day

While the truth is there is still a lot of trash on that mountain, what we did shows that if people work hard and care enough, then we can make nature a little better than the person before us left it.

This project was a way for me and the other USACers to give back to the city that has given so much to us. I want to thank the Biosphere Reserve office staff as well as the USAC office staff for supporting us and showing us that what we did, no matter how big or small, made a positive impact on the place that has made so much of an impact on us.

Derek Tomlinson is a USAC Chiang Mai alum. He attends Humboldt State University.