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Reduce Trash: How Myanmar Upcycles & Inspires Change

Reduce trash and upcycle to create something beautiful.

It’s no secret that our current environmental climate calls for a desperate need to reduce trash and waste. It’s in this day and age like many before that we, as citizens of the world, have the opportunity to make a unique difference and impact on the world around us. These are the days that innovation is born through necessity, and it’s our job to create change. Consider times like America’s Great Depression. People were ruined. They had no money to buy fabric and make clothes, let alone put food on the table. Rather than simply settle for destitution, people became innovative. They used rubbish and waste to make what they needed. They turned to old flour sacks for fabric, and a new type of clothing was evolved.

Myanmar's green startup works to reduce trash.

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The People’s Plight & A Call to Action

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “desperate times call for desperate measures,” there’s no truer statement. However, these desperate times can change in an instant when people choose to make a difference. There’s a huge dichotomy in the world today. Today, America’s poorest citizens have more than the poverty-stricken individuals living in Myanmar. And, it’s in this impoverished region of Dala in Myanmar that we see people reduce trash and turn it into literal treasure.

These are desperate times. Money is scarce, jobs are few and far between, and people struggle to buy enough food to put on the table. However, there is one thing that flows in abundance; trash. Rubbish and waste can be found throughout the region in copious amounts. Whether on the streets, overflowing the landfills, or floating down rivers, it’s everywhere. This is, unfortunately, a side effect of the rapid industrial expansion of Myanmar. Because of the boom, industry outpaced the country’s ability to process waste and recycling, so it just keeps piling up – literally.

Upcycle old goods to reduce trash.

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The People of Myanmar Reduce Trash & Create Art

It’s here, however, that we see a startling change from which richer nations can find a great lesson. These people have an abundance of trash and little of what they need, but this need helped them innovate and create change. Wendy Neampui is an elderly woman in the region who employs thirty people, mostly women. Wendy created a business called Chu Chu Design, which upcycles trash and rubbish throughout the streets of Dala into prized items. Chu Chu Designs has quickly become one of the most off-beat tourist destinations in Myanmar, making it a bonafide industry of its own. This unique, eclectic business was born of necessity but is now an artisan shop known for its quality goods.

It’s here in this one-of-a-kind shop that visitors from around the world can find stylish purses, handbags, jewelry, yoga mat carriers, and so much more. Items within the store are handcrafted from old plastic bags, discarded tires, food wrappers, and beyond. Ms. Neampui teaches her employees to properly clean, design, and create items of value. And, through this unique blend of creativity and innovation, Chu Chu Designs’ artisans make about 76 cents per hour – enough to support a family and live an above average lifestyle. Furthermore, Ms. Neampui works to teach the younger generation, as well. She employs school children to collect rubbish from the streets. In turn, her artisans create masterpieces. Through this little supply-and-demand chain, Wendy and Chu Chu Designs reduce trash and support change.

Chu Chu Designs works to reduce trash through upcycling.

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The Big Picture is Clear

Together with her artisans and employees, Wendy removes about 44 pounds of trash from the streets per month. Considering much of Myanmar’s waste epidemic is lightweight plastic, this is a huge volume of trash removed. A funny anecdote to consider; in Burmese, “chu chu” means “plastic bag.” It’s a witty name for tourists, but it could’t ring more true for locals. Wendy noticed a need for change and a plight of the people and made a difference.

This magic formula for success can be replicated. We, too, can make a difference in the world around us. Individuals can reduce trash in their own neighborhoods and upcycle it into something beautiful. Together, we can transform this pollution epidemic, but we need to be ready to make a change. Consider this fantastic idea. What if children in the US and the UK participated in a rubbish removal program? Not only would this teach them of the need for change, but it would reduce trash in landfills, our city streets, and beyond.

There’s no greater time than now to make a difference and a change. You, too, can spark innovation and a transformation. All we need to do is begin.

Artisans go green and reduce trash.

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