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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Opinion: Garbage is a personal responsibility

Opinion: Garbage is a personal responsibility

Since my first visit to Cambodia in December 2000, I have made numerous returns,

to include accompanying my wife who has now emigrated to the US. During this time

I have been in awe at the scenic beauty and cultural offerings, both in Phnom Penh

and provinces visited.  

Since my first visit I have traveled with my wife's family members to many of the

provinces and areas of interest. I have been labeled as "Mr Clean Up Man"

as I insist that we take and use garbage bags to store our trash during travel, not

throw items out of the windows of the vehicles, and pick up the trash discarded by

others when we encounter it.

In 2000 I was not long in Cambodia before I noticed that many of the Cambodians that

I knew routinely and casually tossed their trash and plastic containers out of the

windows of the vehicles we were riding in, into the streets, on to others' property,

on to the waterways, or on to the floor of restaurants, without, apparently, a second

thought. I also was told that this was the expected "norm" at this time

in the development of Cambodia.

(Note: So as not to seem hypocritical, I also recall an era in America where this

same type of behaviour was the practice or "norm". Clean-up campaigns and

awareness of the consequences by some citizens spearheaded efforts that resulted

in many of the "Do Not Litter" laws and regulations in effect today. So

it is with recognition that I see Cambodia as not doing something "new"

but this a developing country and its residents are going through phases that educational

awareness, focus and information on the detrimental results will help to change).

As one who has seen the USA go through its own "Clean up your environment"

campaigns, I know that it is not easy to have people change long-held habits and

beliefs overnight. As vividly portrayed with the American Indian campaign where,

unable to hold back a tear, this proud gentleman is forced to look, with sadness,

at the collected trash and other man-made pollution now covering his Homeland. Now,

years later I certainly realize that it sometimes take one or more generations before

the reversal effects are seen and things start to change for the betterment of all

of mankind.

While in Cambodia I used the services of my interpreter/translator friend in attempting

to explain to the Family Member that even though Cambodia's economic conditions are

not, currently, the best, when it does start to change and efforts to create better

living and economic conditions for its citizens so "kick in", the problem

of years of trash, litter and indiscriminate dumping of one person's garbage on another's

land will still be a huge factor and a major problem to address. My advice is to

not continue to add to this mess but draw the line at this point to "do the

correct thing with our individual trash".

In visiting some of the river restaurants and "camping sites" I was equally

appalled by the lack of trash containers and seeing the merchants and vendors simply

discard their trash and containers into the woods or waterways. Again I attempted

to explain that if Cambodia hoped to grow its tourism industry, as one viable means

for economic gains, that the sight of trash, garbage and piled up leftovers throughout

the country was not an enticing or welcoming sight to most foreign tourists visiting

the country. I continue to insist that we each should do our part, now, to help clean

up Cambodia.

I do understand the cost associated with the removal and/or recycling of garbage,

and recognize the current limitations of the Cambodian government's budget priorities

in being able to address this issue as one that's high on its agenda.

My belief is that if each individual assumes "personal responsibility"

for not adding another piece of trash to the existing accumulation, along the public

causeways and/or woods, then other thoughts about how best to dispose of the piece

of garbage would come to mind and hopefully other changes in attitude and actions

would take place from that point. Also having the country's two main leaders (and

others in authority) proclaim that litter is a "royal pain" and that litter

reduction is a goal, would be of tremendous help. Remember the karaoke bar closing

edict issued by Hun Sen?

I believe that each time we begin to "look outside of the box" and start

to view problems and concerns from the view point of "Now I know that I have

been told that there's nothing that can be done about this, but, let me just accept

that premise as a challenge and, slowly, perceptively, try to take a look at how

it could be done, if..." Some call this view "overly optimistic".

I call it part of life's reality. After all, simple solutions can oftentimes be found

in the most complex of places.

I strongly believe that if either the Prime Minister or the King would issue a resolution

or decree calling for citizens (and visitors) to dispose of trash properly, that

would go far in helping to develop a campaign that would work to change the current

"mind set" about the hazards of casual garbage dumping and unauthorized

trash disposal in Cambodia. Also occasionally placing this subject as a leading topic

in widespread publications such as the Phnom Penh Post and other Cambodian publications

would help to get things started on a positive note.

Let's Keep Cambodia Beautiful and make it even more so.

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