Green column: Myanmar joins the no-plastics revolution

A boy searches for usable items from a trash pile in a village on the outskirts of Yangon. (Minzayar Oo)

While everyone else was getting drenched over Thingyan, I visited the laid-back island of Koh Lipe in Southern Thailand and didn’t use a plastic water bottle the whole week. When I checked into my bungalow, I was handed a stainless steel bottle and pointed to a water-refill station. Imprinted with LOVE KOH LIPE, the bottle was my ticket to free water refills at dozens of restaurants, shops and hotels across the island.

A similar initiative to reduce plastic use is under way in Myanmar with a recently launched campaign called Thant Myanmar. Meaning “Clean Myanmar,” this grassroots movement seeks to raise awareness on the impact of plastic pollution in Myanmar and initiate efforts to lower consumption of single-use plastic items. “We want to get us all thinking about the amount of plastic we use, how we use it, which items we can refuse or replace with non-plastic options to ultimately move towards a cleaner Myanmar,” says Hanna Helsingen, one of the founding members.

The campaign is initially focusing on three ubiquitous single-use plastics: straws, bottles and bags. The first milestone for the Thant Myanmar campaign will be World Environment Day on June 5, themed this year around plastic pollution, but many plastic-reducing efforts are already under way.

No More Straws

Dozens of restaurants around Yangon have already joined the “Straws Suck” campaign, converting to either reusable straws or doing away with straws altogether. When a straw is necessary, for example with a fresh coconut, you can now find locally produced bamboo straws by Palü available in two different sizes and thoughtfully packaged with a straw cleaner.

Refillable Water Bottles

Nourish Café is working with others in the hospitality and travel industry to introduce a refillable water bottle system like the one I found on Koh Lipe. Collaborating with successful Cambodia-based campaign RefillNotLandfill, many local organizations have already ordered reusable aluminum bottles branded with RefillNotLandfill and Thant Myanmar. Hundreds of water-refill stations have been secured where bottles can be refilled for free, for example at any of the 80 Yoma Bank branches across the country. Bottles will be available for purchase starting on World Environment Day!

Pay for Plastic

A donation scheme of 50 kyats per plastic bag will be implemented in supermarkets and retailers during the week of World Environment Day in an effort to raise awareness of how many plastic bags are consumed on a daily basis. Donations will be contributed to a foundation of the retailer’s choice.

Thant Myanmar is encouraged by the fact that many eco-friendly traditions already exist in Myanmar, such as bringing reusable baskets to the market and drinking from refillable clay urns that are still scattered around Yangon. “We need to revive these sustainable practices and introduce new alternatives because plastic pollution affects everyone. All of us in Myanmar can play our part, starting with reducing our own consumption of the plastic items that we only use once and then throw away,” says Hanna Helsingen. To join the movement, visit Thant Myanmar’s Facebook group.

If you run a local establishment and are interested in setting up a water refill station or purchasing reusable water bottles, please contact [email protected]

Jojo Yang is the co-founder of MYANMORE Green Award winner Nourish Café and Yangon Yoga House, where she is also the main yoga instructor.

Address: 36/38 Alan Pya Pagoda Road (Down a small spooky alley, opposite Park Royal Hotel)
, Dagon Township
Phone: 09 973 802714
Website: yangonyogahouse.com/nourish
Email: [email protected]
Opening hours: Mon-Thurs (10am-9pm), Fri-Sat (10am-3pm), Sun (10am-7pm)

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