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Papaya salad, a southeast Asian classic. Photo supplied

Weekend food festival all about the packaging

Slaprea, Phnom Penh’s biggest food festival, is ready to serve up an assortment of the city’s diverse food offerings at Olympic Stadium this weekend. But for organisers, the festival is not just about taste – it is also about waste.

While food is the main selling point, Slaprea, or “the flying spoon”, is part of a larger initiative to resolve the city’s waste management issues.

According to Adrienne Vicente, project manager at the creative agency The Idea, the festival is in part meant to help advise on future events.

“The main objective of the event is to collect data about waste management for the city” to be used to develop a standard operating procedure for managing the heaping amount of waste regularly generated during street events and festivals.

As a sustainable alternative to styrofoam and plastics, The Idea has teamed up with EcoSense Cambodia, a company that distributes biodegradable food packaging and promotes environmental awareness, to provide the company’s packaging to food vendors at no cost during the event. Each vendor will also be given 300 banana leaf plates made by volunteers.

“If [the alternative packaging] is something they think they can use on a regular basis, we’d like to encourage them to use it in the future [by offering it at a reduced rate],” Vicente says.

The food festival is endorsed by the Ministry of Tourism, which has put together a Clean City Initiative team in charge of overseeing local environmental projects to gather data from festival-goers. Upon completion of a short questionnaire about their waste management practices at home, festival-goers will be able to claim a prize from the information booth.

The team also aims to record the behaviour of festival-goers and vendors in terms of how they separate and dispose of their trash at the event.

While The Idea understands that large events like food festivals and concerts are “really good for business”, they want to reiterate that “you can also make a profit and still not bed to the environment”.

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Cambodia’s signature dish, fish amok. Eliah Lillis

With the data collected at Slaprea, they hope to establish a standard operating procedure to be implemented at the upcoming annual ASEAN Cuisine Festival held by non-profit Pour un Sourire d’Enfant.

“What we’d like to do is participate in PSE’s event and manage their waste . . . and help out at several different events in the year . . . In the long run, what we’d love to do is to manage the waste for big events like the Water Festival,” Vicente adds.

Video taken of trash collectors sweeping garbage into the river during last year’s Water Festival went viral and led to an outcry of criticism.

PSD Express has also involved itself with Slaprea, and will be sponsoring two-way shuttle buses between Olympic Stadium and five different neighbourhoods, including Tuol Kork, Tuol Tom Poung and the riverside.

At the venue itself, festival-goers can expect more than 80 Cambodian and expat-owned food booths, featuring a variety of cuisines Khmer, Thai, Korean, Japanese and more from a number of local restaurants such as Tamarind, Lot 369 and De Bao, as well as non-F&B booths from the Mindful Market. Other highlights on offer include a blow-up slide, a climbing wall, bubble football, eating competitions and cooking workshops.

Sambo’s Tots also has a play area and activities like face-painting for children. There will also be performances by the Russian School of Ballet and popular Cambodian band Kmeng Khmer, as well as seminars on eco-friendly practices.

Vicente hopes the festival will introduce good waste management practices in a realistic and accessible way.

“[Even] if the only thing they get out of it is that maybe at the grocery store they decide to use a canvas bag or reusable bag instead of taking more plastic, that for us is a win,” she says.

Slaprea will be held at the Olympic Stadium from 5pm to 9pm over the weekend. Admission is free, and festival-goers can expect to find food priced from $1-3. More information on the event’s Facebook page. 

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