Myanmar (Burma) &
Spring, 2011 My trip began in Bangkok, Thailand, where I met with some local reuse designers...
Recycling stations are ubiquitous in Myanmar. Run by small
families or groups of people, the stations are simply places
where people can sell their recyclable material. They then
bale the materials and resell them to someone who chips
and processes the material for recycling. These boys, on
break from school, compact plastic and metal with a hammer.
Baling machinery is uncommon, I was told. Recycling stations
in Yangon were buying materials for the following prices
(and reselling for double). They sell in ever-fluctuating
black market Kyat currency, so I converted to USD:
30cents for 1 kilo of paper
1 cent per plastic bottle
.5 cent per metal can
I was impressed with all that is being reused and recycled in Myanmar. It is both a blessing and a curse for countries like Myanmar to have such high poverty rates and slow development. The benefit of their delayed development is that they don't yet have the financial resources to flood their markets and environment with disposable materials. But with increased imports from China, and a fast growing tourism industry, I suspect this will soon change. The challenge is to establish a waste management infrastructure than can grow alongside the local economy. Despite the amount of open dumping and incineration happening in Myanmar, it does seem that the government is making some good choices in banning plastic bags and non-recyclable plastic composites. Still, education is badly needed. Like most places in the world, informal recyclers in Myanmar don't make a lot of money. In many countries, waste collectors organize into cooperatives because selling larger quantities of materials yields a better rate. This is also true in Myanmar, but the political situation prevents people from organizing.
I would love to see countries like Myanmar showing pride for many of their reuse traditions. They still practice many of the habits that people in the US are now trying to re-adopt, such as toting reusable containers for takeaway food. Economic development has a significant impact on a country's waste stream. In Southern Thailand, a world hot spot for tourism, municipalities have been unable to appropriately handle the influx of waste being produced, resulting in a garbage island of poorly managed waste. As a tourist, this is something I spend a lot of time considering during my travels. Tourists generally create more daily waste than the average local resident. Should tourists be taxed for this impact? Should tourism companies be taxed? Should producers ultimately be responsible? Can we leave it up to the local government and private waste firms? Or is it up to us to turn our waste into a resource? Please feel free to contact me with your ideas.