Although there have been intensive education campaigns initiated by both government and non-government groups on how to minimise, if not totally eradicate the use of plastics, its widespread use remains.
Chu Chu Myanmar, a local non-government group, has taken steps to address the daunting challenge of plastics pollution and has earned success and recognition thanks to its innovative methods of addressing the problem.
The group’s strategy is to recycle discarded plastics materials and trash and turn them into usable products.
Its workshop and showroom nestled in a quiet suburb across downtown Yangon in Dala township is a recycling marvel: the roof is constructed from old tyres and its walls from plastic bottles instead of bricks.
Inside the structure are wonderful examples of recycling creativity such as lampshades cut and sewn from melted plastic bags and doormats made from motorcycle tubes. Bamboo is used for shelves and decorations, turning the whole structure into a perfect model of using recycled and sustainable materials.
The facility’s showroom is the focal point for visitors.
As soon as guests enter the Chu Chu shop, they are greeted by the amiable and friendly Daw Wendy Neampul, the managing director of the organisation.
Although normally busy with paperwork and other administrative duties, such as meetings with workers, Wendy always takes the time to entertain visitors and answer their queries about Chu Chu Myanmar or about the products showcased on the racks.
The showroom is furnished with a table and bench made from old trees and tree stumps repurposed as seats. If they feel thirsty they can have drinks, and coffee, while browsing the different recycled items on display, such as wallets, bags, toys, and curios among other things.
Wendy, who used to work as an accountant with a local NGO, partnered with Italian humanitarian organisation Cooperazione e Sviluppo (Cesvi or Cooperation and Development in English), to establish Chu Chu Myanmar in 2014.
Friedor Jesky, who works with Cesvi on sanitation and waste management projects, was trying to find solution to the mountains of plastics rubbish found in the rivers and around Yangon.
He soon realised that he needed to do more than solve the rubbish problem. He also had to find ways to help the thousands of impoverished people in Dala, which is usually known more tourist touts and perennial water shortages.
Wendy was among the first people trained by Jeske for the recycling project. Now, Chu Chu shop employs over 50 workers, mostly people from the surrounding communities.
The pilot project ran from 2014 to 2016. But by 2015, there was still a lot of unused money and so they decided to build the centre on a plot of land owned by Wendy.
According to Wendy, marketing Chu Chu’s products remains a major challenge, noting that many people still have little regard for recycled goods.
Daw Wendy admits the organisation’s main customers are foreign visitors, since they are the ones who appreciate the group’s products more. The organisation also earns revenue through a with two big shops that provide design ideas and order the finished goods.
Chu Chu Myanmar not only produces goods from recycled materials , it also conducts education on recycling.
Two years ago, two schools from Tamwe, and Thingangyun townships, and an international school invited Chu Chu to help educate their students about recycling.
Daw Wendy notes that people are slowly beginning appreciate Chu Chu’s recycled products and there are increasing numbers of local customers. She hopes that there will soon be a complete change of attitude among the general populace about recycled products.
“Even government officials have come to visit the shop to learn how Chu Chu can recycle discarded plastics into usable products,” she says.
Just recently Chu Chu, in cooperation with other environment groups, started the “Lan Thant/ Clean Street” campaign to distribute dustbins and encourage people to discard things into the bins.
Environmentalists are warning that approximately 200 tonnes of plastic waste are being dumped in the country’s sewers and waterways every day, which is causing serious harm to the environment.
The plastic materials will not completely decompose, therefore, it ends up in toxic mountains of trash on land and in oceans, killing millions of seabirds and marine animals.
Daw Wendy said she hopes that sometime soon people will truly learn to reuse, recycle and if possible, minimse the use of plastics in or order to make the world not only cleaner but also a healthier place to live in.
Chu Chu Myanmar, Daw Wendy said, will continue to contribute its share in achieving this dream.
Chu Chu Myanmar. Address: No. 507, Khaye Road, Dala, Yangon. FB page: chuchuyangon, ChuChu Workshop.
San Lin Tun is a freelance writer who writes essays, poetry and short stories.