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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A day in the life of: a night time refuse collector

A day in the life of: a night time refuse collector


Rubbish collection is an everyday necessity and vital for the environment and preserving the beauty of the city.

At the same time, people who work in the industry are discriminated against because rubbish is unpleasant for both the eyes and the nose.

When people drive past rubbish collectors, the first thing they usually notice is the unpleasant sight and smell of rubbish.

Some cover their nose and others speed away.

Sak Salat, a local rubbish collector with a thin and muscular body, takes the long view of other people’s disgust.

“When I see these actions, I feel angry, but I say nothing: I just remember that if we weren’t here for two days, the whole city would stink,” he says.

Worse than this, people sometimes throw rubbish carelessly while trash collectors are working.

“Once I remember a piece of plastic was thrown and hit my head while I was brushing the road,” says Salat, while leaning on his broom with one hand.

Sak Salat, 22, is responsible for clearing the area around Orussey Market. Like the other members of his team, he begins work at five or six in the evening, every day of the week, until the night’s work is finished, usually at seven in the morning.

His role is gathering rubbish into handcarts, pulling it to the corner of the market, and waiting for a dump truck to take it away. It sounds simple, but this line of work requires a lot of energy.

At night, while everyone else sleeps, he and other collectors are sweating and working, with the constant risks of touching poisonous chemical substances, potential traffic accidents and breathing polluted air.

“Once my friend was nearly directly hit by a car,” he says. “Luckily it was not so serious.”

The job requires very little in the way of training or equipment – workers are only required to wear a light-reflecting shirt during their shift. It is because of this that Salat, whose salary is less than $100 per month, has just enough money to survive in Phnom Penh.

Sak Salat used to work as a warehouse keeper for a company in Phnom Penh, but he quit the job because of unfair treatment and the discrimination he faced from other workers.

“My former job featured more discrimination than my present one. Now I can work in a quieter place which is not as hot during my shift,” he says.

Salat feels happier in his line of work than before, but he has one request for households and vendors who pile up their waste: “Please keep the rubbish tidy.”

Though he has little education, there is still hope in his heart.

When he saves enough money, Salat will go to his hometown in Svay Rieng Province to open a small motorbike garage which was his first line of work after he stopped studying at the age of 15 while his family was facing financial problems.

“I had repaired motorbikes for three years before working in the city, so I am confident that I will succeed in my business,” he says.



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