Khiri Reach: Cleaning Up Myanmar’s Plastic Problem
Complaining about an issue doesn’t make it go away; getting involved and being a part of the solution is the only way to lead real change. When it comes to the rubbish and plastic pollution plaguing most countries around the globe, the first step is to collect the trash itself.
Mr U Tint Swe, the owner of Nanda restaurant in the ancient city Myanmar city of Bagan, has set up a local organization called the ‘Bagan Plastic Campaign’. They first managed to acquire a garbage truck through a Japanese NGO and every weekend, the truck goes around with volunteers from hotels, cafes, ballooning companies, etc., to collect rubbish from different sites around the city.
Besides cleaning and collecting garbage, they have been implementing community awareness campaigns and getting locals to join in the activities, while also teaching them why plastic must be gathered and disposed of – if it cannot be recycled in the correct manner. One of the methods being taught is how to make eco-bricks. This involves stuffing small or soft pieces of plastic into plastic bottles until they are compacted; the bottles are then sealed. These eco-bricks can be used to form or repair structures and walls, providing a free and strong source of building material.
Khiri Travel Myanmar decided that it was not enough for Bagan to only be cleaned on weekends, clean ups also needed to be run on weekdays too. This was also an opportunity to create jobs for some of the poorest people in Bagan. Through one-dollar donations from each client that participates in our ‘This is Bagan Excursion’ funds were raised to start this new Khiri Reach initiative. Four jobs were created, and four locals started working in May this year as full-time garbage collectors. They now get paid US$100 each per month, the cost of which is being covered through Khiri Reach under the supervision of our Khiri Reach Ambassador, Ms Su Mon Latt.
Now every Saturday, foreign and local volunteers from around the city join the clean ups, while the four hired cleaning staff perform the task during weekdays.
Some of the biggest clean ups implemented by the Bagan Plastic Campaign have been carried out in the following areas:
- Nan Taw Yar, along the way to Bupaya, the museum and Mingalazedi in Old Bagan
- Shwezigon Pagoda, along the way to Htilominlo Temple in Nyaung-U
- The front of Thiri Mingalar Hall, along the road to Myingyan
- Thiripyitsaya Junction to Bupaya and from the junction to Myinkaba Village
- From the museum to Bupaya , Tharabha Gate, Ananda Temple and Thatbyinnyu Temple
- Bagan Hotel (Old Bagan), along the way to New Bagan
- Non Let Ta Phat sunset hill and surrounding locations
The Bagan Plastic Campaign group also welcomed volunteers from NYU AGD Bank who got involved and helped educate the public on how to reduce consumption and dispose of plastic in a way that doesn’t harm the environment.
Recently, Areindamar Travel Group and the local municipality authority joined us too and actively cleaned the grass banks and all public areas of the piles of plastic around the East and South sides of Phayani Pagoda in Nyaung-U. In addition, Student groups from Khiri Travel volunteered and focused on cleaning rubbish and plastic near Thatbyinnyu and Ananda temples.
At the moment, funding and donations for the Bagan Plastic Campaign come from different stakeholders – some local celebrities and donors from around the country – but it is not enough to ensure the long-term growth and expansion of the project. As the program is already set up and running smoothly, it would be wondeful if travel agents and other businesses in the industry could join us and start supporting the campaign. This would guarantee the jobs of the four garbage collectors and also provide employment opportunities for other local people.
With few recycling facilities or options in Myanmar, there is hope to create local community workshops where all plastic can be broken down and even recycled for other uses. This would not only prevent landfills and burning, but help solve the plastic pollution problem for good.