Yangon neighborhoods cleared of plastic garbage under money-for-waste campaign

Children, other residents motivated to pick up plastic bags and wrappers from under homes, streets and drains.
By RFA Burmese
Yangon neighborhoods cleared of plastic garbage under money-for-waste campaign A person picks up plastic waste in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 11, 2023.
Credit: RFA

A campaign to pay people for their plastic garbage in select parts of Yangon has resulted in cleaner neighborhoods and an increased awareness of the difficult-to-decompose waste.

The program started last year by Thant Myanmar, a Yangon-based anti-plastic environmental group, pays 100-kyat (about 5 US cents) per viss (about 3.6 lbs) of plastic. The purchases are made at collection sites of the Yangon City Development Committee. 

“The visible difference is that garbage is cleared,” said Hnin Wai of Thant Myanmar. “These places used to be heavily littered. Now people collect their household garbage and sell it. When there is no garbage under their houses, they collect litter from the streets.”

And as a result, mosquitoes can no longer breed and there are no mice in their neighborhood, Hnin Wai said.

Most people who live in the areas targeted by Thant Myanmar usually throw their garbage under their houses, even though they could dispose of it at a local landfill, she said. As a result, drainages around their homes and nearby lakes are polluted.

Yangon resident Yin Mar Myint told Radio Free Asia that she considers the money paid by Thant Myanmar group as more of a labor fee than an exchange of money for garbage. She said children and adults in her quarter in South Dagon township are typically earning 3,000 to 10,000 kyat (about US $1.40 to $4.75) from picking plastic garbage. 

Thant Myanmar bought plastic waste in the city’s South Dagon, Shwe Paukkan, Dagon Seik Kan and Thanlyin townships from Feb. 11 to Feb. 14.

Still not enough

The campaign started last year in several other Yangon townships, according to Thant Myanmar. The city of 8 million people produces more than 2,300 tons of garbage per day, 400 tons of which is plastic waste.

“It’s still not enough, in fact,” Thant Myanmar’s Ye Lin Htet said of the campaign. “We can cover only one section of a neighborhood or a quarter.” 

Most people are primarily occupied with their struggle to make a daily living, he said. But the program has also been aimed at getting people to think of the dangers of plastic waste, and of the importance of separating recyclables from material that could be used as compost. 

Myanmar imports more than 600,000 tons of plastic from abroad each year, mostly from ready-to-eat food packaging, single-use plastic products and plastic bags, according to Thant Myanmar. 

Additionally, the country’s Irrawaddy River was included in the list of the world's 10 most polluted rivers in 2021. According to a survey by Fauna & Flora International, as many as 119 tons of plastic materials are dumped into the river every day.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.


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