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Cigarette butts litter the ground at a Siem Reap
Cigarette butts litter the ground at a Siem Reap home after a delivery man transported bags of them believing they were fertiliser. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Ashes to ashes: Butts shipment goes awry

A man hired by a purported representative of a fertiliser company to haul 30 tonnes of “natural fertiliser” from Thbong Khmum province to Oddar Meanchey province some three months ago was surprised to learn this week that the load actually consisted entirely of cigarette butts.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, however, the butts’ rightful owner claims that they were stolen by a rogue employee and that he wants the butts – which he bought from Ukraine – back for use in tests to determine their efficacy in improving crop yields.

Bun Sen Sun, the man hired to transport the soiled filters, said he was contracted more than three months ago by a man claiming to be a supervisor at Pen Lim Trading Group to transport the 30 tonnes of ashy leavings for $600, and was given documents to present to authorities listing the truck’s contents as legally imported natural fertiliser.

After dropping off a portion of the load in Oddar Meanchey, he was told by the supervisor to hold the remaining 10 tonnes in Siem Reap for a week while he waited for payment. Sen Sun said he left the load at a friend’s house, but after some time, the supervisor cut off contact.

“Three days ago, my friend called and told me that the bags of fertilisers were leaking out butts, with the bad smell affecting the health of their family so much. But I couldn’t believe it when I heard this,” he added, noting that he ultimately went to see for himself before alerting local authorities to begin scrutinising fertiliser shipments.

Deputy Provincial Governor Bun Tharith said yesterday that he had received reports of the case from authorities, and was awaiting an order to investigate.

Yang Koma, president of Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, said that while the leaves of tobacco plants can be synthesised into pesticides, cigarette butts are not only useless as fertilisers – especially given that do not decompose naturally – but also dangerous.

“It’s impossible to use cigarette butts as compost because they’re toxic pollution and seriously [affect] human welfare,” he said.

However, Pen Lim, chairman of the firm that imported the “fertiliser”, said the butts were not toxic, and could help improve soil quality and drive away insects. He ordered 20,000 tonnes from Ukraine, he added, of which he had received 400 tonnes to test the product’s efficacy. The 30 tonnes sent to Siem Reap, he said, were stolen by an employee who has since fled.

A copy of a licence issued on June 26 and signed by Agriculture Ministry official Lor Raksmey showed that Pen Lim Trading Group was authorised to import a total of 80 tonnes of fertiliser from Ukraine through Sihanoukville.



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