Myanmar-based social enterprise Chu Chu is clearing up waste in a rural township of Dala and turning the trash into a colourful array of recycled artisan crafts.
Chu Chu’s aim is to transform reclaimed waste into beautiful new products. Chu Chu’s product range includes wallets, baskets, pencil cases and wine bottle sleeves made from recycled materials including plastic bags, chip packets, instant coffee sachets, bicycle tyres and car tubes.
Everything at the Chu Chu workshop in Dala, which lies south of the Yangon River in Myanmar’s commercial capital of Yangon, is carefully crafted from trash – from the building itself right down to the products that are made and sold at the workshop.
The roof is made from old tyres and the walls from glass bottles. And inside this treasure trove of recycled-trash-made-handicrafts is where you will find lampshades cut from melted plastic bags, a technique that includes forming a plastic sheet after heating plastic refuse, as well as pencil cases and bags.
At the Chu Chu workshop and store, bamboo is used for shelving and decorations, and doormats crafted from motorcycle tubes double up as floor mats. Outside, pot plants made from brightly coloured plastic bags perch on the patio, and customers are welcomed to Chu Chu by a sign made from plastic soda bottles.
The creative mastermind behind the project is a 65-year-old local, Wendy Neampui, who donated the plot of land beside her house, which had previously been filled with hand-looms used to create traditional textiles from her native Chin State.
Chu Chu started out in 2013 as a project funded by the European Union and the Italian Cooperation, and was run by the Italian NGO Cesvi, until it became an independent social enterprise at the beginning of 2016. Wendy Neampui, Director of Chu Chu, was involved from the start and continues to be involved in the project.
Now a self-sustainable social enterprise, the business currently employs 30 staff members, providing an income for locals, many of whom were in financial difficulties prior to working at Chu Chu. Production is family based giving women the chance to work from home next to household work.
According to Chu Chu, the business recycles around one-and-a-half tonnes of plastic waste a year. Moreover, Yangon produces as much as that in a day.
Chu Chu often buy materials from city waste stations. But workers also rummage through street waste to pick up trash to be turned into handicrafts at their workshop.
Chu Chu employees have acquired new skills, including learning how to form plastic sheets from heating plastic refuse, and have become familiar with and grown to become passionate about a material – ie. trash – that has otherwise been shunned by the local community.
Solving Yangon’s growing waste management issues is too large a problem for the social enterprise to tackle, but Chu Chu hopes it will raise awareness and get people to make better use of their resources.
Initially Chu Chu created products for locals, but due to the stigma attached to trash and recycling trash, many were not enthused. Locals too were surprised at the prices of Chu Chu’s products, ranging anywhere from K2,000 to K45,000.
In a recent interview with Myanmar Times, Chu Chu Director Wendy Neampui said: “Local people keep asking me why the prices of products are expensive even though it’s made from trash!
“Well, firstly we need to collect the trash, clean it, cut it, heat it, melt it and make a sheet. Then we need to sew it or weave it or fold it. It’s not easy.”
The lack in enthusiasm by locals for handicrafts made from trash has not deterred Chu Chu, however. Instead Chu Chu have found itself a growing international clientele of tourists who visit Chu Chu’s small premises, which doubles up as a workshop and showroom. Tourists can marvel at what can be done with garbage, learn about recycling in Yangon, and purchase products, including accessories as well as homewares.
A recycling success story, Chu Chu are also working with NGOs in Myanmar who desire to promote better waste treatment, and provide consultancy on the set up of general solid waste management systems.
Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable life & style, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com