Sunday, 03 May 2015; News by Khmer Times/Igor Kossov
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – One after the other, plastic garbage bags slide down a metal chute from an upper story of the Tonle Bassac Restaurant, landing in a pile, occasionally bursting, and often blocking the sidewalk of a busy side street.
Restaurants generate more garbage than any other kind of establishment in Phnom Penh, according to a December 2014 study in the Journal of Environment and Waste Management. Large restaurants created 891 kg of waste per week.
The study identified three-star hotels as the second-largest group of polluters, followed by Internet cafes, universities, schools and mid-sized restaurants. Supermarkets, offices, government ministries and non-food shops produced less, although their non-organic waste can be higher.
The capital’s businesses and citizens create over 1,500 tons of trash every day. Although many people complain about garbage, many residents fail to bag it properly, or mind the time of day when they discard their trash. Garbage cans are a collector’s item.
Sanitation experts say it’s going to take money, garbage cans and a big attitude change to get garbage off the city’s streets and sidewalks.
“We know that the money is not enough, because urbanization is very big,” said Vin Spoann, an environmental researcher at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP).
Cintri’s 50-Year Deal
In 2002, Cintri, the sole waste collection company in Phnom Penh, the company signed a 50-year exclusive contract with the city. Since then, Phnom Penh added one million more residents.
Today, Cintri reportedly leaves behind as much as 20 percent of uncollected garbage each day. The company previously complained that Phnom Penh’s traffic and labor disputes interfere with its ability to do its job.
The city government recently said it would review Cintri’s contract and consider hiring other companies to help with garbage pickups.
Mr. Spoann and his department colleague at RUPP, Yim Mongtoeun, are skeptical that a new city proposal to decentralize garbage collection will work to reduce solid waste in the capital, now home to 2.2 million people.
Long Dimanche, Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman, said a plan is under discussion that would place the burden the city’s district authorities to reduce trash piles.
“Even now, when we have a problem, City Hall asks the districts to handle it,” said Mr. Dimanche.
A National Plan
A separate, nationwide plan is under consideration, to create a $5-million fund for municipalities around the country to allow them to create their own contracts with garbage collection companies, according to the Ministry of Environment.
Mr. Mongtoeun and his colleague are skeptical that district-level authorities have the experience or capacity to implement collection plans.
They say the nationwide fund is not nearly large enough to tackle garbage problems in cities across Cambodia.
“But at least the government is doing some good,” Mr. Mongtoeun said. “The growing concern is a good sign for Cambodia.”
Back at the Tonle Bassac, a popular seafood restaurant on Mao Tse Toung Blvd, Nun Nam, the supervisor, said his staff wrap the fishfood waste properly, spray piles for pests once a week, and, after pickups, wash the street and sidewalk with a hose. Despite his restaurant’s spacious interior, he said there is no place to keep garbage bags inside.
“We know the disadvantage of waste,” he said, of the restaurant where 300 people can come on an average night. “We don’t want any problems with our neighbors.”
He said the trash, which lands on Street 163, is picked up twice a day. But across the narrow street, there are two other restaurants, one with outdoor tables.
One restaurateur, Kim Leang, the owner of Khmer-Thai Restaurant, said that the garbage bags are picked up once a day.
She said the malorodous piles create a such smell, eyesore and rodent problem that it drives away as many as 20 potential customers per day.
“It’s a big problem,” she said on Friday, a day when several garbage bags had burst.
Though fines between $25 and $250 exist for trash violators, local authorities do a poor job enforcing rules, said Mr. Spoann.
Mr. Mongtoeun, his university colleague, said: “If the rule is enforced, maybe people can pay more attention. We have regulations but law enforcement still weak.”
Local authorities may be similarly ineffectual when it comes to cleaning their districts on their own. Experts dispute that district-level personnel understand the garbage problem better than municipal governments or the Ministry of Environment.
Also, there is often more corruption on the local level. And local budgets may be insufficient to handle the responsibility of both creating and implementing solutions.
The researchers said that in addition to cracking down with enforcement, local authorities can invest in community education programs about using garbage cans and timing garbage dropoffs for truck pickups.
The city could provide large metal or concrete enclosures for garbage. This would help keep it in one place, reduce scattering and improving collection times.
“It wouldn’t cost much,” said Mr. Mongtoeun.
Mr. Dimanche said that providing large containers is Cintri’s job. He charged that the company doesn’t follow all of its contractual agreements. Cintri was unavailable for comment by print time, largely because of the long weekend.