KeepHealthCare.ORG – A long way to go on the environment
A simple example of the consequence of this ecological disaster: a whale died in southern Thailand recently after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags. In Myanmar, 80 million plastic bags are used every day and an average 1690 tonnes of rubbish are generated per day in Yangon Region, and 10 percent of it plastic waste. The situation is certainly not going to improve. Indeed, plastic bottles and solid waste production tripled over the past five years.
In 2014, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) – a method of quantifying and numerically marking the environmental performance of a state’s policies – ranked Myanmar 164 out of 178 countries analysed. According to the EPI, the country had among the lowest scores in almost every aspect of performance related to regulation or infrastructure. For instance, its wastewater treatment was ranked 145. Ecosystem vitality and protection of terrestrial biodiversity were particularly weak and its environmental health was ranked 137. Forest and water resources were seen as the main environmental concerns based on the environmental performance assessment funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the United Nations Environment Programme.
Myanmar’s government has tried to tackle the issues through laws and regulations. Its 2008 Constitution states that “The Union shall protect and conserve the natural environment” and “Every citizen has the duty to assist the Union in carrying out environmental conservation.”
In his report, U San Oo, director of the Environmental Conservation Department, describes a “sustainability roadmap for Myanmar,” a legal framework based on two laws – the 2012 Environmental Conservation Law and 2014 Environmental Conservation Rules, as well as the 2016 Environmental Impact Assessment Procedures drafted with the support of the ADB and based on the guidelines of the International Finance Corporation. The 2012 Myanmar Foreign Investment Law includes provisions to restrict or prohibit investment activities that affect public health, the environment and ecosystems, which produce toxic waste or use toxic chemicals. It calls for investors’ businesses to avoid environmental damage.
However, according to U Win Myo Thu, these laws will be enforced only if the state succeeds in eliminating the corruption that contributed to the degradation of the environment under the former military regime. This implies a real effort to raise public awareness, particularly among officials.
Moreover, Myanmar’s environmental administration does not yet have the ability to effectively respond to all the environmental issues the country faces. According to Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, “Plastic waste has a huge impact on our environment, so we need to distribute plastic substitute bags and items to the public.”
Associations and companies also try to take measures for protecting the environment. For instance, RecyGo, a recycling service company in business since 2017, is the first registered waste management company in the country. It provides services such as waste segregation, waste awareness training, waste collection and logistics for recycling centres and general waste at dump sites.
Thant Myanmar, a movement fighting plastic pollution, has launched several campaigns on social media.
At Connect Breakfast – World Environment Day, a conference organised by the French Myanmar Chamber of Commerce, Céline Guyomarc´h, general manager of Melia Yangon Hotel, said that action could certainly be taken – Melia Yangon is already replacing plastic straws with bamboo ones – but it was not easy. Such actions require analysis to ensure that quality and hygiene standards are met.
Coca-Cola Myanmar has launched a nationwide recycling awareness campaign, “Tan Bo Shi Tal,” meaning “it’s worth it.” The goal is to highlight the importance of bottle and can recycling.
A report by post-consumer waste managers Gone Adventurin details the collection, recycling and material flows of plastic and aluminium packaging in Yangon and Mandalay. According to a Myanmar Times article, the study reveals that local collection rates of plastic bottles and aluminium are among the highest in Southeast Asia. Coca-Cola in Myanmar is also working with Doh Eain to turn alleyways into gardens and with domestic social enterprise Hla Day to produce artisan crafts made from recycled Coca-Cola packaging, as part of the firm’s recent initiative “World Without Waste.”
Even if there is still a long path toward sustainable development in Myanmar, all these projects show there is a rising awareness about the need to protect the environment.
Marion Fougerouse is an intern at the French Myanmar Chamber of Commerce in Yangon.