LINC Myanmar 
Linking Infrastructure and Communities toward Waste Disposal in Myanmar

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Trash and Myanmar

Burning trash, garbage-filled rivers, waste strewn along streets...

These are all things that Myanmar, one of the poorest and most underdeveloped country of Southeast Asia, has not been able to deal with effectively in its current state of increased modernization and consumerism. The waste management infrastructure is proportionally one of the worst in the region.

Myanmar is a heavily Buddhist country with one of the world's longest-running ethnic conflicts and a history of half a century of military dictatorship that recently and controversially transitioned to a more democratic form. In 2009, the waste disposal sites for the country consisted of 2 open dump sites. Most people burn their trash, which produces large amounts of one of the most toxic substances in existence, dioxin.

The Project

LINC Myanmar's solution is a focus on building linkage between communities and safe waste disposal sites and facilities like recycling plants, leading to a great decrease of the direct health risks posed by trash to both people and the surrounding ecosystems while also better unifying the country's peoples and creating economic opportunities for those in the local community. 

Though the project is looking to expand in Myanmar, the first projected location is Kyaukme, Shan State,  which has a more diverse ethnic makeup inlcuding Bamar, Shan, and Palaung people.  It is 3.5 hours away from Mandalay on the highway and is surrounded by mountains with Palaung villages. 

The Town of Kyaukme

Kyaukme is a town 3.5 hours away from the bustling Mandalay by highway, nestled in the rolling hills of the Shan topography and serving as a hub of commerce between the nearby villages inhabited by Palaung peoples and the more modern infrastructure and goods available from larger towns and cities.

It is because of its proximity to both urban and rural regions, and its function as a middleway between them, that Kyaukme was chosen as a starting point for the project's implementation.  Because of its better connection to both Mandalay, Pyin Oo Lwin, and villages such as Hu Kwat, a waste path could be set up to better improve the lives of both rural, semi-rural, and urban people.  The people in the villages understandably don't get as much traffic and don't have as organized systems of trash disposal, and are even more likely to burn their trash closer to human settlements.  The city dwellers of Mandalay would have the most improved trash disposal system as the city can allocate more money to it.  Kyaukme is somewhere in the middle, and improving its waste system would have effects on the villages's alternatives to trash disposal and on Mandalay's recycling companies and infrastructure.

Furthermore, Kyaukme is located close to the border between the Shan and Mandalay states and therefore sees less ethnic tension due to its mixed population than other places in Myanmar.  This mix is then advantageous to more collaboration and for a more stable setting.

Lastly, Reese's experience in Kyaukme for a few days, the nearby villages from a 2-day hike, and the city of Mandalay makes establishing the project there easier and more secure.  It is also easier to reach out to people and understand their lifestyles and ways of thinking.

The Trash System in Kyaukme

Currently in Kyaukme, the trash from citizens is collected every 2-3 days by government trucks and taken to a mile-long landfill stream 20 minutes outside of town, where the refuse is set on fire in the evenings by government workers, polluting the sky with large columns of smoke.

Waste pickers search the landfill for aluminum cans, plastics, glass bottles, and other metals sold by its weight. 

There are shops in Kyaukme where people can sell recyclables to, which end up at recycling plants in big cities.

The biggest question is, why aren't more people selling recyclables instead of having them taken to be landfilled and burned?

  • polluted river near Inle Lake
    polluted river near Inle Lake
  • scorch marks from trash burning in Bagan
    scorch marks from trash burning in Bagan
  • smoke from burning trash
    smoke from burning trash
  • dump site near train station
    dump site near train station
polluted river near Inle Lake
polluted river near Inle Lake

Main Thinking

LINC Myanmar keeps the focus on these important points: 

Context and community:
Solutions should be shaped as the people desire and to best meet the needs of the community's situation.

Solutions shouldn't be quick-fixes, but long-lasting changes of habit for the better,  with visible benefits, such as economic gain and a decrease in pollution and health ailments.

kyaukme, Myanmar,
Questions, comments, and more are very much welcome!