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Burning plastic now a burning issue

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‘People against burning plastic’ meeting coordinator Maddy Green. Photograph: Miranda Glasser/Phnom Penh Post

A group of expats gathered last week at Pipelli Pensione to discuss the problem of waste disposal and plastic burning in Siem Reap.

The meeting was prompted by travel agent Dave Perkes, who noted on Facebook that burning of plastic was a “serious pollution and health problem” which sadly some Cambodians were unaware of. This led to fellow expat Maddy Green suggesting monthly meetings.

Green says the main goal is to investigate ways of reducing people’s consumption of plastics.

“It’s a topic that everyone complains about, but no one’s really calling for action,” says Green. “We thought that rather than be another group of do-gooders who try and set up some recycling initiative, we should try and culminate all the different research, and contacts that people have made with the local government, and find out why nothing’s changed.

“Our long-term goal is, through education and initiative, to reduce the amount of plastic that people use in the first place, because then there’s not so much to burn or collect.”

The three main issues the group aims to address are rubbish collection, plastic bag burning and the copious amounts of plastic packaging produced by local businesses.

 “We want to meet with the government and the tourism department and find out what they’re doing already,” Green says.  She adds that she’s investigating ways of creating financial incentives for people to collect plastic bags.

The group also plans to address the lack of regular collections by private rubbish contractor, Gaea. This often leads to people burning their own rubbish, unaware that plastic bag burning releases dioxin, a highly toxic chemical which has been linked to cancer.

“It also contaminates ground water and I think that’s a key issue because of all the flooding and the pumps that most locals use,” says Green. “I think there’s a lack of education about the dangers and effects.”

Another idea is to talk to supermarkets about an incentive to encourage customers to reduce use of plastic bags, and to local businesses about using alternatives to Styrofoam packaging such as paper boxes.

“We’d like to try and create an initiative like a ‘no plastic bag day’ for supermarkets,” says Green. “People can have a bag if they want, but possibly pay 500 riel for it.”

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