What are you breathing in? How to protect against air pollution

This is my second blog on the life changing events I experienced during my trip to Myanmar and Thailand last month. If you missed last week’s blog and lessons, check it out here.

Myanmar is such a delicate and beautiful place that I feel it creates an environment where the negative effects of the modern world are most crudely and rapidly demonstrated – the toxicity of the way we live now and how we consume resources has destroyed it in such a short space of time.

It demonstrates the path the rest of the world is on – unless we decide to make a change.

Whilst in Yangon, Myanmar I used to listen to expats complaining that the air pollution was so bad. To be honest, I didn’t really notice it as much as I did in other states of Myanmar, maybe because motorbikes were banned from the city which makes a huge reduction in noise and air pollution. As I write this, Yangon is judged to have the eighth worst air quality in the world, with Dehli in India coming in at first place.

Learn more here about a wonderful project to help clean up Yangon’s air

You read all about air pollution all over the world, but I now know that, until you really experience bad air pollution, it’s impossible to imagine what it really feels like.

My last stop with Bokashi Myanmar was the Inle Lake sitting at the bottom of the Shan mountains.

The Inle lake is one of the top four tourist destinations in Myanmar. It is the second largest freshwater lake in Myanmar and has a population of around 170,000 people. I had been there less than 24 hours and noticed that the air pollution was affecting my physical wellbeing and all my senses. There was a PROBLEM that needed investigating. Why did I feel like this? It didn’t take long to find the source.

Whilst wandering round the town, Nyaung Shwe, I could see there was smoke billowing on almost every street corner and upon further investigation, I discovered the locals were burning plastic and sometimes plastic with raked up brown leaves. It was a toxic mess that was severely affecting my health. Immediately my bubble of excitement to be at the lake burst.

The motorbikes roar around creating dust clouds due to the 40+ degree heat, and because the lake sits so low below the mountains, the air just gets thicker and thicker, trapped by the oppressive haze of pollution which suspends over the people of this area. Whilst out on the lake, I noticed hectares of floating tomato gardens where they would regularly burn off spent crops.

Everywhere I went, there was that awful smell of toxic smoke from burning plastic and the heaviness of the suppressing air pollution. I am convinced people will die young from inhaling the fumes and living in that much air pollution if no action is taken.

After only 24 hours in this environment, I was truly poisoned and wasn’t well enough go out the next day. I felt very grateful that I only had to spend 72 hours here. It took me three weeks to feel normal after I came home and feel so grateful for the clean air of Waiheke Island.

The problem I feel stems from lack of systems and education. KNOWLEDGE is POWER. The Shan people have never been taught how to dispose of the introduced plastics – there are no systems in place for such products, so what do they do with them??? Throw them in the river, drop them on the street and burn them.  The air pollution has come about from years and years of burning plastics and their health is suffering. What once was a beautiful place is now losing its beauty and purity.

Concerningly, it is only getting worse with the building of hotels and increase in tourism, which will serve only to destroy the eco system of the lake. Education and systems need to be implemented to save such a beautiful place full of beautiful people.

One of our missions of going to the Inle lake was to meet an amazing man called Tauk Tauk who owns the Chillax Restaurant. This young man was a true inspiration – he has no plastic at his restaurant; he uses Bokashi for his kitchen scraps and his raked up leaves for his carbon to create a garden; he serves only bamboo straws and has the only working Worm Farm I have seen in Myanmar.

At his restaurant, we met with his team and talked to them about the pollution and the state of the lake, suggesting ways that they could process their own food waste, clean up the lake and create systems to make compost. I am really happy to say that these people are in real action and are coming for training at the Bokashi Soil factory in Yangon.

This will really help to make a difference in getting things moving in the right direction for Nyaung Shwe and Inle lake.

We must remember that all it takes to make an impact on the world is to share knowledge from one person to the next in a positive way and I am very proud to be part of the Bokashi Myanmar Team in spreading this message.

If you would like a solution that works for your food waste and to learn how to set up a soil factory, please get in touch.

Similarly, if you know of a way that can help me to spread this message, I’d love to hear from you!


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