CINTRI workers Chantria, left, and Sarak collect some of the 928 tons of garbage that Phnom Penh generates every day. In the next decade the rubbish is expected to nearly double to 1,700 tons a day.
Phnom Penh struggles with a mountain of rubbish
The soapy water instantly turns murky brown as six-year-old Vai Rith squats and sinks
his hands and forearms into the basin on the concrete floor in front of him.
It's 7pm at Psar Olympic in Phnom Penh, and Rith and his father, mother, brother
and two sisters have taken a break to wash up after stacking their day's takings
- pieces of plastic, aluminum cans and scraps of metal - in a big pile.
Rith's family are garbage-pickers, scavengers of the 928 tons of solid waste that
Phnom Penh generates each day. For a city with no established recycling system, and
very little public awareness - where a growing population invariably means more garbage
- waste management remains one of the urban great challenges.
"Phnom Penh needs a way to reduce both pollution and the amount of garbage",
said Heng Yon Kora, program director of an NGO that provides daily snacks, hygiene
classes and even the soapy water for Vai Rith and the other scavengers of Olympic
Market to clean with.
"But right now," he added, "we are doing neither."
The NGO, called the Community Sanitation and Recycling Organization (CSARO), has
been running recycling and awareness projects in Phnom Penh for the past five years.
Although Yon Kora said the situation has improved in that period, especially since
contractors CINTRI took over the city's waste management two years ago, he said a
change in strategy was needed if people's attitudes were to change.
"The main problem in Phnom Penh is the amount of waste," Yon Kora said.
"CINTRI provides a good service in some areas of the city and they make the
center look nice for tourists. But they don't reduce waste."
Officials at CINTRI, CSARO and the Waste Management Department of Phnom Penh Municipality
all told the Post that a reduction of waste is urgently needed. In their 2005 master
plan, CINTRI predicts that if the trend continues, the daily amount of Phnom Penh
garbage by 2015 will be more than 1,700 tons a day - almost twice the amount it is
They also agree that the only way to avoid this scenario is to change the attitude
of the littering citizens. The key is raising public awareness; instructing city
dwellers to use garbage bins and eventually even sort their trash. But how do you
go about doing this in a city where disposing of garbage has long been a matter of
anywhere and everywhere?
Tep Rithivit, the managing director of CINTRI, puts his faith in an awareness campaign
that includes a series of televised commercials with the slogan "Clean is Smart"
and positioning large containers around town - the first 15 of which will be in place
in early 2006. But he admits it's going to be difficult to change people's attitudes.
"We have to get to the heart of people - to appeal to their conscience and make
them understand that if the city is clean, everyone benefits," Rithivit said.
"We are doing a good service now, but we could do so much better. We are trying
to organize the garbage collection in a safe manner, but we are still having a hard
time convincing people that CINTRI is not making a big profit from the fees we are
charging them," he said.
When CINTRI secured the 50-year contract with the Phnom Penh Municipality and took
over the city's garbage management in 2003, some critics questioned both the legitimacy
of the lengthy contract and a subsequent increase in garbage fees tacked on to customers'
Rithivit claimed that CINTRI had decreased the amount of garbage in Phnom Penh by
27 percent in 2005, but they were still not making any money, having invested all
their profits in equipment and human resources - trucks and social security benefits
Chiek Ang, deputy director with the Phnom Penh Municipality Department of Environment,
was confident the amount of waste would continue to drop.
"We have to make the amount of garbage per person less in the future,"
he said, adding that only education and awareness campaigns would accomplish this.
"Otherwise, when the new landfill opens there will not be enough room."
In the Stung Mean Chey garbage dump, scheduled to shut down in 2007, CINTRI also
runs a small recycling plant. In their master plan the company calls for more such
plants, something CSARO Program Director Heng Yon Kora strongly opposes.
"More recycling factories will only lead to more pollution in the city,"
he said, and proposed that the city of Phnom Penh instead have its most toxic waste
transported to Thailand or Vietnam, which already had facilities to deal with it.
"With CINTRI, we have another problem," he said. "Transportation has
already increased and the big trucks destroy roads and bridges. With the new landfill
we will just get more trucks and more pollution."
Tep Rithivit said using the new landfill, which is being prepared in Dangkao district
some 20km outside Phnom Penh by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA),
would require using more fuel for transportation - but it would not be necessary
to deploy more trucks.
Rithivit said CINTRI and JICA had not yet agreed on a fee for using the dump site,
but guaranteed his customers that CINTRI's prices would not increase in the future.