Let’s face it, Cambodia has a problem with rubbish. You don’t have to travel far before you see a big pile of trash on the side of the road, or plastic bottles and bags washed up by a river. It’s the harsh reality of not only Cambodia but the whole of South-east Asia as well. The further issue is that there aren’t many solutions. For example, there are no recycling facilities in Cambodia and any recyclable goods which do get sorted, which isn’t many, have to get sent to neighboring countries. Then there’s the issue with trash collection. It costs money, and those who can’t afford it simply cannot get their trash collected. There are no roadside bins, landfills are becoming too full, and the country is struggling to find a solution to its overflowing waste generation.
Understandably however, for a country that is tackling a whole lot of other issues including poverty and corruption, environmental awareness and education just isn’t as high up on their radar as it could be. Environmental education has only recently been introduced into schools so there is progress – but teaching 3 generations not to throw their trash on the ground is a greater obstacle.
Now let’s talk about the good news. Yes there is a problem, but there are also people throughout this great country who are taking on that problem and providing solutions, some of which could be turned into international alternatives because our own countries have certain environmental issues we need to tackle as well. And yes I am mostly talking about the problem with plastic.
Many organisations throughout Cambodia have created initiatives to tackle this problem head first, and here are just a few:
Rehash Trash is a social enterprise created by the NGO The Green Gecko Project. They have found a creative way to take used plastic bags and turn them into household goods such as coasters, placemats and decorative bowls. The organisation provides work to vulnerable women in the community who come here in the mornings and turn plastic bags into beautiful creations through the art of crochet. The plastic bags are gathered from people in the community, washed and then sorted by colour. The ladies then cut the bags, turn them into plastic yarn and begin their crocheting. In a few hours what was once a menace to the environment is now a long-lasting usable household item. An initiative that not only cleans up Cambodia but also provides job opportunities to people in need.
Cleanbodia was created to provide an alternative option to the excessive use of plastic bags. Instead, they provide customers with an eco-friendly, biodegradable bag made using cassava plant grown throughout southeast Asia. These bags will biodegrade in less than 2 years, which is a huge alternative to the 500 years that a plastic bag will take. The product is slowly being introduced to cafes around Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, with the hope to replace plastic bags in supermarkets and larger scale stores in the near future.
Eco Soap Bank
It’s not only plastic that contributes to the trash problem. Food waste and chemical waste also harm our environment, including things we wouldn’t really think of such as soap bars. The Eco Soap Bank in Cambodia collects gently used soap bars from hotels (The ones we wash our hands with once and then get thrown away). They then sanitise them, recycle them into liquid soap and store the soap in recycled plastic bottles to donate to schools, orphanages, hospitals, and humanitarian organisations working in disadvantaged communities. They promote the importance of sanitation and ensure that communities remain safe from preventable illnesses while combating waste issues at the same time.
Friends International is a leading social enterprise in southeast Asia that provides assistance to disadvantaged youth and their families in the community. They run a variety of social businesses including restaurants and shops where you can purchase products made by parents and caretakers of the children supported by the enterprise. Many of their products are made using recycled goods, for example, handbags made out of old tyres, and notebooks or wallets made out of used newspapers. They work with their employees to create sustainable ideas that help the environment and the community.
Plastic Free July Cambodia
Plastic Free July is a campaign that runs in many developed countries throughout the world. It promotes the excessive use of plastic bags and encourages us to see what kind of a difference we could make by giving them up for one month. The campaign was very successful in reducing plastic bag usage in places around the world, and 4 years ago Sarah Rhodes decided to bring the campaign to Cambodia. Siem Reap was tackling a plastic bag issue and they were looking for a solution. Slowly but surely more and more people caught on to the campaign and the community was starting to see a change. Through education and awareness, the community is working together to combat the issue and will run the campaign for as long as needs be.
Husk Cambodia would certainly have to be leading the way when it comes to finding useful ideas to reuse plastic bottles. They have constructed a building using plastic water bottles filled with rubbish. You have to see it to believe it but this wonderful initiative has helped to clean up a whole village and also provided a school for the children that live there. Husk are now involved in the creation of a second village using the same platform with environmental sustainability and community development at the forefront of their minds.
There are so many other organisations and people throughout Cambodia that are finding creative alternatives to combat the issue with trash. Through the education of future generations and the environmental awareness of today’s people there lies a positive, rubbish free solution ahead. Change takes time but these stories give us hope that it can and will happen.