Waste View from Asia: Myanmar

April 25, 2019 by Frank Raschke

Living in Myanmar highlights the different challenges we have in the world with Waste.

Firstly, it is everywhere. Somehow tourists seem to be very surprised by this fact. But no money and education has been invested in anything waste related. It should not come as a complete surprise as we also need to take the general level of education into account. It is the definition of developing countries. Priorities may be focusing on other pressing issues.

Secondly: there are no proper waste treatment facilities in Myanmar This is not due to lack of trying. Plenty of donor countries have installed waste treatment facilities, but most stopped working shortly thereafter for multiple reasons.

Thirdly: the government has no money and is unlikely to have any money anytime soon to invest in waste treatment. Electricity is being heavily subsidised. The government tries very hard to reduce the subsidies. There is a trade-off, reducing electricity subsidies or raise money for waste treatment. The second it very unlikely to happen any time soon.

There are plenty of other equally important points and issues. In fact, the list seems endless.

Are there solutions possible? We believe there are. But we have to first move away from the western thought process and business models, which have developed over the past 2 – 3 centuries. Here we have the infrastructure for collection, transfer stations, sorting and handling of waste. Simply by copy and pasting these concepts to developing countries will not work.

Compare waste with electricity, where we used to have large power stations providing power for large areas. This is rapidly changing. Alternative sources of energy all producing different amounts of electricity dotted around everywhere, we need to take a similar look at waste in developing countries.

Rather than looking at the profit in terms of gate fees and off-take arrangements, models in emerging markets need to include the cost for:

• reduced waste transport by trucks

• less uncontrolled dumping

• improved quality of life in the areas with smaller waste solutions

• long term benefit of being able to show what can be done with waste

Myanmar, like all of SE Asia is desperately looking for solutions. With many landfill facilities running out of capacity in the next 3 - 5 years, which is very soon, any solution is being considered. Currently Asia does not like the idea, but incineration is the technology of choice. It can destroy large amounts of waste fast and it works. One of the main cost factors in Incinerators are the air-filter systems, which operators like to turn off. We believe they need to be inbuilt from the start. Shortcuts will only backfire, as we see in China.

Myanmar is open to consider different solutions which fit the problem and not the other way around.

Frank Raschke lives in Myanmar and is a partner at Frontline Waste.