In a world filled with bustling shoppers and disposable habits, there lived a humble umbrella with a remarkable story of a journey to tell. “Hello, shoppers,” it whispered with gratitude, “Thank you for choosing me today. Your wise choice has saved countless plastic bags from filling the landfill.”
The umbrella’s story began in the depths of despair. It had once been a faithful companion to its owner, shielding them from the rain and the sun. But its metallic ribs grew weak as time passed, and its fabric faded. Eventually, its owner cast it aside, condemning it to a life of abandonment. The umbrella’s tragic tale turned darker as it landed in a dustbin, surrounded by leftovers, foam boxes, plastic cups, and plastic bags. It was then discarded at a landfill, enduring an awful journey filled with unpleasant smells and a disorienting ride.
Days turned into nights, and the umbrella bore witness to the decomposing organic waste. In contrast, plastic waste, including clear bags, coloured plastic bags, and greasy foam food containers, surrounded it without ever changing forms. It felt helpless, unable to escape the suffocating clutches of the landfill.
Amidst the agony, it witnessed other discarded umbrellas like itself; scared of suffering the same fate. The relentless heat of methane gas, sunlight, and the stench of decaying organic waste haunted them all. Informal recyclers occasionally rescued clean plastic bottles, cans, and recyclable electronics. The informal recyclers included children risking their health collecting waste without protective gear.
The umbrella knew it wasn’t biodegradable, yet it clung to a dream of a second chance of being useful to continue serving and among people like it once served. Then, one fateful sunny day, the umbrella and found itself airborne. Someone was pulling away the rusted iron rods, causing a minor tear. It plummeted to the ground, blown helplessly with plastic bags in the wind, dizzy and forlorn. As the wind subsided, it descended back toward the landfill, resigned to returning to the darkness. But just as despair threatened to devour it, salvation came in a form of small gentle hands.
The hands placed it in a bag, surrounded by other abandoned umbrellas. Together, they journeyed to a small house with imperfectly sealed floors and leaky roofs. Laughter and occasional friction filled the air, starkly contrasting the umbrella’s previous life in the landfill. Then, another day came, and they were transported to a new house where they experienced the touch of clean water. Memories of their purpose as umbrellas returned, bringing them joy, yet the umbrella remained puzzled. The umbrella began to dry off after numerous washes with different soaps and disinfectants. It sensed a large, smooth surface beneath it and felt needles puncturing from various angles. Confusion swirled, and it blacked out. When it awoke, the little umbrella realized it had been transformed. It was no longer an umbrella but a shopping bag. “I am useful again,” it rejoiced, “This is my second life.” Alongside its fellow transformed umbrellas, the shopping bag embarked on a new adventure, travelling to markets, shopping centres, offices, and buses, serving a new purpose to reduce plastic waste.
This extraordinary journey was created by M Adventure and made possible by Prevent Plastics Myanmar and City Mart Holdings Company Limited(CMHL), who collaborated to repurpose discarded materials into shopping bags. Over 3,800 shopping bags found new owners in Pathein Ocean on Sundays in June 2023, encouraging consumers to reduce plastic bag usage. During a Plastic Free July event at City Mall St. John, more than 500 shopping bags found their owners, which are now roaming the city and positively with style. The umbrella’s second life is a testament to the power of transformation, collaboration, and the belief that even discarded objects could find purpose once more. This initiative provided support to 26 stay-at-home tailors and 13 informal waste collectors in the communities of Phyar Pone, Bo Ka Lay, Maw Kyunn, and Hlaing Thar Yar. The project involved collecting old umbrellas as raw materials from the landfill vicinities where these recyclers operate. A total of 11,250 umbrellas were retrieved from landfills and transformed into stylish shopping bags through the collective effort and collaboration of all participants.