The sound of machinery roars as 15 workers labour in a charcoal factory in Russey Village, Meanchey district, in the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
Here they go through the motions to convert dried coconut shells into the fuel base, though this factory has a different vision for its operation than many other commercial plants.
The Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise (SGFE) charcoal factory is a collaborative project of NGOs Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) and Group for Environment, Renewable Energy and Solidarity (GERES).
“This factory provides jobs for residents of the poorest communities living near the dumpsite in Stung Meanchey,” said Carlo Figa Talamanca, a project manager of SGFEnterprise.
“We have nine people as sales and marketing service agents, two security guards, and two production managers,” he added.
“Generally, we spend around six hours or more to produce two kinds of charcoal,” said Chum Vichet, a production manager at SGFEnterprise.
The two types of charcoal are painstakingly created from different environmentally sustainable materials like coconut shells and biomass waste, which each have different burning quality, he said.
The price of a kilogram of charcoal is 1,100 riel (US$0.27) for local consumers in the market but 1,000 riel when purchased directly from the factory, said Carlo Figa.
Using organic materials other than wood to produce the charcoal provides an eco-friendly fuel option.
And the factory project's vision of sustainability extends to the environment in which workers labour.
“I think there are good working conditions here,” said Kong Solath, a 24-year-old who has been working at the factory for two months.
“There is no pressure or anyone taking advantage of workers. I’m satisfied with my monthly salary and I also get 18 days annual leave. We work only eight hours a day and six days a week.”
“Working here, I feel good about my life, not like when I was a waste-picker at the dumpsite in Stung Meanchey before. I work eight hours, so I have time to take my children to school,” said Noeurn Chantha, a 32-year-old female worker with two years' experience at the factory.
About 600 to 800 kilograms of charcoal is sold every day through client orders.
“We plan to increase our production to 20 or 30 tonnes per month from 15 tonnes,” said Carlo Figa.
“So I will be preparing a new advertising strategy to expand our market.”
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