‘If a Society Like Us Does This, People Will Follow’

By San Yamin Aung 24 May 2014

RANGOON — The Free Funeral Services Society (FFSS), which has been winning over the hearts of people ever since it was founded in 2001, initiated new garbage collection service this month, encouraging people take personal responsibility as an exercise in democracy.

The Rangoon-based society held two public talks about environmental maintenance early this month in North Dagon Township.

FFSS offers not only funeral services free of charge, but also provides free health care and free education services to those in need.

The Irrawaddy spoke with the society’s secretary, Myint Myint Khin Pe, wife of FFSS’s founder Kyaw Thu, about their latest service.

Question: Why do you want to start this waste collection service?

Answer: There are two things. One is that years ago, rubbish would turn into humus, but after the plastic age came, rubbish became a cause of environmental damage. We can’t stop cutting down trees and petroleum drilling to protect the environment, but garbage is the one thing we can fix if we change individually. Our intention is not to just to pick up garbage, but to educate people not to litter.

Secondly, collecting waste systematically is taking personal responsibility not to disturb others. It is the practice of democracy in the easiest way.

Q: How will the service be implemented?

A: It is not something that we [FFSS] can do by ourselves. It can be successful only if we can get community collaboration. So we will do public awareness first to get public interest in it. And after that we will do it by cleaning the ward with the collaboration of the public, and by putting dustbins on streets and collecting them.

There will be three separate bins: for wet garbage, recyclables and harmful waste like from hospitals. It is not easy to do in all places. We have to do this in the long term. Now we are starting from 42 Ward, North Dagon, where our head office is situated. We will continue to other wards that want to collaborate on it, and if there are some organizations that want to do that, we will support their needs.

Q: Why is public awareness needed?

A: Burmese people think that rubbish is not important to care about. They are accustomed to living in a mess, especially low-income people. Indeed, there are many effects of rubbish other than damaging the climate, food, fisheries and ecosystems. For example, in rainy season, the garbage blocks waterways and sewers during heavy rains and flows freely in the street. It makes a stink and harms health. We need to change people’s mindset first. If there is no one littering in public places, garbage problems can be managed.

Q: Why do you start this service now? Doesn’t Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) have a duty to collect garbage and pick up litter in the city?

A: We tried it in May, 2013. We collected rubbish in public places such as jetties, North Okkalapa Township and others. But we were prohibited by YCDC. They said they can do themselves and they have projects. So we stopped doing it, but now we start it again.

YCDC is trying to manage it, but they can’t collect the garbage in time. And they have already implemented a plan to separate dry waste into green bins and wet waste into blue, but people don’t obey it—maybe because they don’t have trust in the government or they don’t understand. We expect that if a society like us does this, people will follow.

Q: If the government prevents you from collecting garbage again, what will you do?

A: This time, they haven’t prevented us yet. We told town administrators about our plans. They understand too that we are doing it to have discipline in the community. We are not putting them to shame. They couldn’t do by themselves because it mainly depends on people to have discipline.