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'Licence to hide': Western plastic waste dumped in Myanmar

'Licence to hide': Western plastic waste dumped in Myanmar
Published October 15, 2023 Updated October 15, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

YANGON — In a working-class neighbourhood of Myanmar’s Yangon, plastic waste is piled a metre high, the toxic product of what a recent investigation said is rampant dumping of Western trash.

For several years sites across Shwepyithar township have been filling up with trash that chokes fields, blocks the drainage of monsoon rains and causes fire risks.

The trash is the runoff of global plastic production, which has more than doubled since the start of the century to reach 460 million tonnes per year.

“In the past, during the rainy season I could pick watercress from this field to eat,” one resident told AFP, asking not to be identified for security reasons. 

“Because of the plastic waste, now we can’t get any watercress to eat. Instead, we get a smell.”

An investigation released this week by collaborative newsroom Lighthouse Reports and six partners has found some of the waste dumped here comes from the West.

The mix includes wrapping and containers for products ranging from Danone yoghurt to Polish company Spomlek’s cheese.

Items from German-owned United Kingdom supermarket Lidl and pasta packaging from Canada’s Unico have also been found.

None of these originated in Myanmar, but they have ended up there despite a law prohibiting the import of plastic waste unless it is clean and ready to recycle.

The ban was imposed after China stopped accepting foreign plastic waste in 2018.

Several local recycling factories admitted to Lighthouse Reports that waste they can’t process is often dumped or burned.