RecyGlo cleans up in recycling

Photo 1 Yangon city workers clean an alley in the commercial capital. Aung Khant/The Myanmar Times

11 March 19 - Source: Myanmar Times - Coloured waste bins line the walls of RecyGlo's office in Yangon. Blue is for paper, red for plastic, green for aluminium and black for general waste.

The waste is being separated for recycling. "If the plastic, glass and cans that we discard daily are not systematically sorted, recycled and reused, it will have an impact on the water, food and air and end up negatively affecting us as well as the flora and fauna in our environment," Ma Shwe Yamin Oo, CEO of RecyGlo, said.

Some waste that is discarded by people takes many years to decompose. During this period, waste such as plastic packaging can end up clogging drains and rivers, which leads to flooding and encourages disease. Garbage can also flow downstream and eventually enter the ocean, where it becomes a threat to marine life.

Decomposing waste material can pollute the environment and become hazardous to public health. "Good health is not guaranteed in our country because people tend to heap their garbage at the top of the street or road. Foul-smelling gases and fluid comes out of such garbage dumps. The fluid flows into the ditches, and we eat the fish from those polluted ditches and streams," she said.

Solving the garbage problem

As such, materials like plastic, glass and tin cans that do not easily biodegrade should be reused. Most plastics will not biodegrade in landfill sites. With the goal of providing a solution to Yangon's mounting garage problem and generating public awareness of the importance of separating and recycling waste, Ma Shwe Yamin Oo and her partners founded RecyGlo in 2017.

Today, the start-up collects over 100 tonnes of garbage and has made a difference in the lives of more than 12,000 people. RecyGlo services include waste collection, waste awareness training, waste audits, and providing neighbourhood recycle bins. The company also organises Corporate Social Responsibility programmes. The company deals with waste such as paper, cardboard, plastics, and aluminium and tin cans. "We charge depending on the services the businesses and organisations want," said Ma Shwe Yamin Oo.

Ma Shwe Yamin Oo. “In the past, we had to do cold calls to introduce our services, but now people are beginning to contact us.” Shin Moe Myint/The Myanmar Times

RecyGlo provides waste collection and recycling services to around 400 non-governmental organisations, companies, hotels and offices, including Savoy Hotel, H&M, Panasonic, IFC, UNODC and Sakura Tower. More recently, factories in the industrial zones and some banks have shown interest.

More importantly, investors have started paying attention to the company. Last month, RecyGlo was accepted into the Katapult Ocean Accelerator Programme from Norway and will receive a US$150,000 (K227.6 million) investment. The start-up is entering Katapult in an effort to secure later stage funding with the goal of expanding to other cities in Myanmar.

The firm is receiving fresh funds at a time when demand is rising as more people and corporations become aware of the importance of recycling. "We have established ourselves, and now our clients are all separating their waste properly. In the past, we had to do plenty of cold calls to introduce our services. These days, people are beginning to contact us," said Ma Shwe Yamin Oo.

With prospects looking more promising, RecyGlo is planning to invest in expanding its business and technology this year. "We will try to offer more streamlined services in Bagan and Mandalay besides Yangon," she said.

"As long as people are disposing of waste, we have to collect the garbage. There is no deadline in this business as in an NGO project. It will be done for the long term. There will be this type of job as long as this country exists.

"In fact, waste disposal is a problem not only in Myanmar but throughout ASEAN, so we intend to go regional," she said.

Rough start

Ma Shwe Yamin Oo said that, at first, the idea behind their business was alien to the Myanmar public and business community. "We are the first business targeting waste management and recycling in Yangon. There was no other successful business providing this service before us, so people thought it very strange," she said.

"It was really a struggle at the start. Everyone said "no" to our service. People just threw everything into the same bin. When I told them to separate their trash, they didn't like it and thought they would have to pay, especially locals. They thought it was weird, so it was really depressing," she said.

"We needed creativity, and it was really difficult to get the business going. We wouldn't have been able to do it with our own money, but we received funding and support from Phandeeyar. We also had other people encouraging us, which helped us push on. I am now convinced that our business is possible.

"Most importantly, everyone should take full responsibility when it comes to litter.

"If we don't keep our environment clean, unclean things will surely come back to us," Ma Shwe Yamin Oo said.

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