In celebration of World Water Day on Wednesday, the US embassy held the Cambodian premiere of the US documentary “A Plastic Ocean” – an award-winning documentary on the impact of plastic waste around the world – at Aeon Mall’s Major Cineplex.
The film, shot in more than 20 countries, documents the devastating effects of plastic pollution on the Earth’s environment, ranging from micro-plastics in the oceans affecting wildlife to the waste effects on human populations in poverty-stricken areas.
US Ambassador William Heidt told the audience the world needed to act bilaterally in order to address the problem, with estimates that within 15 years more garbage will exist in the ocean than fish.
“[The documentary] makes the very clear point that the health of the oceans and rivers is not just a local challenge, but also a global challenge,” he said.
In Phnom Penh, the average citizen uses roughly 2,000 plastic bags per year, 10 times more than someone in China or in the EU, according to a 2015 survey conducted by anti-poverty group ACRA.
Ngin Lina, director general of the Ministry of Environment, said the government was taking steps to change the population’s widespread use of plastic bags to address the country’s environmental concerns.
“Plastic bags are used for everything, from protecting clothes from the rain to acting as a drinking container,” she said before the screening.
“The Ministry of Environment and its stakeholders will take action to reduce plastic bag waste in cities in Cambodia by encouraging consumers to adapt to more sustainable behavior in the use and disposal of plastic and sustainable alternatives,” she said.
While she said that Cambodia was a small player in terms of plastic polluters in the region – the documentary showed the biggest offenders were China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia – she recognized that every country needs to play their part to affect change.
This sentiment was echoed by Grace Smith from Go Green Cambodia, an environmental group that has held several public clean-up events around Phnom Penh.
“The purpose of Go Green is to say to people, think locally and act locally and every little difference is going to make a change, so that one straw you’re not using today is one straw that doesn’t end up in the ocean,” she said.
Smith acknowledged that on a local level plastic waste management may be low on Cambodians’ priority list, which is why it is key to demonstrate and educate citizens on practical and effective solutions to cut down plastic waste.
“It’s the local markets, the local women at home, who need to understand the impact of plastic, but still [for them] the number one is putting food on the table,” she said.
“So we have to give them alternative ways that are still cost effective and biodegradable, or just using less, or learning how to segregate their waste.”