Since the beginning of 2014, the waste problem in Phnom Penh has made frequent appearances on newspaper headlines especially after events like CINTRI workers’ strike. The waste issue is exacerbated after heavy rains, which further illustrates the improper disposal of waste in Phnom Penh city. Waste collection and management is a common issue on the agenda of a fast growing and developing city like Phnom Penh.
The population of Phnom Penh has increased from 1.3 million in 2008 to 2.2 million in 2014 according to the World Population Review. With the increasing population, more and more waste is being generated every day from households, markets, restaurants, and other businesses. According to a working paper by CICP (a research institution in Cambodia), waste in Phnom Penh city in 2006 was generated at around 906 tons/day during the dry season and around 875 tons/day during the rainy season. However only 63.9% of that waste was collected.
Waste collection in Phnom Penh is handled by a private company and the Phnom Penh Municipality. In 1997, a company called PSBK signed a contract with Phnom Penh Municipality to manage the city’s waste for the next 50 years. However, in 2002, CINTRI took over and has monopolized waste collection in the city since then. In addition to the contributions of this private company, the Phnom Penh Municipality is also responsible for waste collection and management in some parts of Phnom Penh. Those areas include poor neighborhoods and squatter communities where there is limited road access. This is done by an agency of the Municipality called the Phnom Penh Waste Management Authority (PPWMA) whose role is to either provide waste management services itself, or contract out these services to a private company and monitor their performance.
Today, waste management has caused a number of problems for the Phnom Penh Municipality. They have tried to address these problems for quite a long time, but an effective solution does not seem to be in place yet. These problems include:
Improper packing and storage of waste:
Some Phnom Penh residents are still unaware of the importance of packing and storing their waste properly. Typically, people pack all kinds of waste together in one plastic bag, making it difficult to separate for recycling and composting. In addition, a lot people keep their waste in front of their house at any time regardless of the waste collection schedule. If the schedule is missed, the waste is just left there unconditionally. Even worse, some people do not keep their waste in front of their house but instead choose to leave it on the street and other public spaces. This is normally seen during the night when large piles of garbage are put out on the street. And if that is not enough, there are waste scavengers who dig through garbage bags searching for recyclable items that can be sold. Consequently, the garbage is scattered everywhere and it is very hard to collect.
Limited waste disposal methods:
Currently, the main method of waste disposal in Phnom Penh is through dumping in which garbage is delivered to Choeung Ek dumping site, 15km away from central Phnom Penh. This dumping site went into operation in 2009 in order to replace the overflowing Steung Mean Chey site. There is no system in place to recycle or compost the disposed waste. For example, hazardous waste is burnt on the site with other kinds of waste. As a result, this negatively affects people’s health as well as the environment. In addition, a lot of potential fertilizer is lost when all the organic material is just dumped with the rest of the waste. Due to the limited waste disposal methods, Phnom Penh cannot make use of available resources efficiency.
Rubbish outside the bin:
In Phnom Penh city, it is not surprising to see flying plastic bags and other rubbish in public areas. Not everyone here in Phnom Penh actually throws trash in the rubbish bin. Despite the fact that rubbish bins are placed in most public places, people will just throw their rubbish anywhere they want. Some even throw trash from their cars or motorbikes while driving. Others leave it at the park or even right next to the rubbish bin but not in the bin. As a result, not all the waste is collected and cleared. This makes the charming city of Cambodia less beautiful and less healthy.
It is undeniable that these problems have existed for a long time here, and yet, we are still waiting for an effective solution. According to the paper Municipal Solid Waste Management in Phnom Penh capital city of Cambodia, written by a group of scholars from the University of Yamanashi, Japan, it is recommended that the Phnom Penh Municipality should consider the following actions if they wish to see any real improvement with the waste issue.
1. Improve legislation
So far, Phnom Penh Municipality has issued regulations and rules forbidding people from leaving garbage in public areas like the street and marketplace; however, not much has changed and people still discard their trash wherever they please. Regulations and punishments should be strictly enforced so that people will respect and adhere to them
2. Promote environmental education
Raising awareness about the environment is essential to dealing with the problem of rubbish outside the bin and improper rubbish packaging. When people truly understand the impact of their actions, they are more likely to change themselves. This kind of self-awareness is even more effective than rules and regulations because people will be willing to change without being forced.
3. Establish a variety of waste management facilities
There will be a lot of advantages if the Phnom Penh Municipality build a recycling plant, composting facility, and incinerator for waste disposal. That way, people can make use of recyclable products. Farmers will be able to use organic fertilizer from waste composting treatment and the environment will be less polluted.
Without a doubt, no matter how big a problem is, there is always a solution. Improper waste packaging and storage, limited waste disposal methods, and bad habits of throwing rubbish can be solved if enough effort is put into the process. After considering all angles of the problem, one can see that there is need for better and stricter regulation, more public awareness about the environment, and diversified waste management facilities in order to cope with current issues of urban growth.