Unveiling ‘Licence to Hide’: Western Plastic Waste Dumped in Myanmar

A recent investigation into Myanmar’s Yangon has found that plastic waste is piled a meter high in a working-class neighborhood, causing pollution, blockage of monsoon rains, and fire risks. The waste is part of the runoff of global plastic production, which has more than doubled since the start of the century to reach 460 million tonnes per year.

The waste includes wrapping and containers for products from Danone yoghurt, Spomlek’s cheese, Lidl, and Unico pasta packaging. Despite a law prohibiting the import of plastic waste unless it is clean and ready for recycling, which was imposed after China stopped accepting foreign plastic waste in 2018, the waste continues to be dumped or burned. Local recycling factories admit that waste they cannot process is often dumped or burned.  contacted several companies whose products were found in Myanmar to inquire about their origins.

Lidl, a UK-based plastic waste company, has been found to be sending plastic waste to Myanmar, a country with a porous border. The company has a strict policy against sending waste or recyclables to Asia and is disappointed by the findings.

The investigation suggests Thailand is a key passage for illegally exported plastics, with most of Myanmar’s plastic waste imports coming from Thailand. The porous border between the countries is crossed easily by traffickers and smugglers. Officials on both sides of the border do little to inspect arriving waste, and the collected data is often out of date. In July, Myanmar’s junta claimed there was a $1.639 billion difference between what Thailand said it exported to Myanmar and what Myanmar said it imported from Thailand.

The discrepancy “might be caused by illegal trade”, according to the Illegal Trade Eradication Steering Committee. Locals in Shwepyithar reported that much of the waste dumped in their neighbourhood came from recycling factories in a nearby industrial zone. However, the risks of protesting such a move in Myanmar, which has been run by a military junta since a 2021 coup, are high.

MyanmarPlastic Waste DumpedUnveiling 'Licence to Hide': Western Plastic Waste Dumped in Myanmar