Plastic bags are ubiquitous in urban Myanmar. They provide a cheap, disposable solution for transporting food and drinks, but once thrown away they wreak havoc on the country's ancient drainage systems.
The city of Mandalay recently began confiscating supplies of plastic bags without clarifying why. Residents began using banana leaves as a substitute and some high end malls are selling what they claim are biodegradable plastics.
Arbitrary laws are common in Myanmar but by condemning the use of plastic bags, the government of Mandalay is on the forefront of the international environmental movement.
With the growing acknowledgment that recycling alone is not a long term solution to over-consumption of plastic, many are seeking to decrease usage. Gundaboon, a small town in Australia, has recently banned the sale of bottled water and the Federal Environment Minister is encouraging states to make the ban nationwide.
As bad as bottled water may be, it pales in comparison to the damage caused by plastic bags. The bags choke our ocean ecosystem and contribute to the "swirling mass of plastic trash about 1,000 miles off the coast of California, which spans an area that's twice the size of Texas," (Salon).
There is little environmental movement to speak of in Myanmar, but it's possible the government of Mandalay is cracking down on plastic bags in order to clean up the city. Dhaka, Bangladesh banned them in 2002 in a successful move to unclog the sewers. It may also be a publicity stunt with no long term enforcement (Betelnut and counterfeit DVDs, both of which are ostensibly illegal, can be purchased on any street in Mandalay).
Time will tell whether the city government is serious about reducing consumption or has some other inexplicable motive in cracking down on plastic bags.
Orion Martin ('11) is volunteer teaching in Yangon, Myanmar.