A vital part of the Kingdom’s recycling efforts, a group of scavengers lined the riverside in Phnom Penh last week to accept new carts to collect their cans and bottles, a project carried out by two foreigners and partially funded by a Go Fund Me campaign.
“Sixteen ‘Green Scavenger’ carts were handed out to waste pickers who make their living by collecting recycled waste. The event was held on February 26 along the riverside near the night market,” says Tim Coulas, one of two men behind the project.
The Green Scavenger project started in 2017 when Alex Bor was inspired to aid the scavengers after seeing them walk the streets while struggling to carry large bags stuffed with recyclables.
Through research, he learned that collection capacity could at least be doubled with the use of a cart.
“These recycling waste pickers, sometimes called scavengers, collect bottles, cans, cardboard and other recyclable materials and carry them in big bags until the bag becomes too bulky or heavy,” Bor, who is currently retired and living in the Netherlands, wrote on the Go Fund Me page.
“Then they must carry their heavy bags over long distances to middlemen who in turn sell the recyclable plastics and other materials to processing plants.”
Green Scavenger, a well-designed trolley which is easy to manoeuvre with a volume of 0.75 cubic metres, was created to solve this problem.
“Alex designed them in 2018, based on functionality and acceptance. The construction is contracted to local welding shops, which follow the design specifications,” says Coulas.
Bor has worked on development projects for over five decades in 30 countries. He then partnered with Coulas, who had worked in Cambodia for six years on land titling with the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction.
Bor and Coulas used their own resources to achieve success as the Go Fund Me page raised only $600.
In the first phase, Bor was able to contract the construction of the units, find suitable beneficiaries, and distribute an initial 13 Green Scavenger units.
“The prototype was created and delivered in Phnom Penh in May last year. In September last year, Alex used Go Fund Me and had 13 units built and distributed to beneficiaries who met the requirements.
“Beneficiaries are mostly women, who are poor and providing for their family,” says Coulas, who organised an event last week to hand over 16 more carts.
Coulas, who had previously worked with Bor in Indonesia after the tsunami in 2005, donated about $3,200 to build the 16 further units.
Scavengers help manage waste as they seek to collect plastic from home to home, commune to commune in order to exchange it for cash to support their families.
“The Green Scavenger unit will help them retrieve as much plastic, metals and cardboard out of the environment as possible.
“With a cart, a recycling collector can collect 10kg more per day than without one. On an annual basis, this results in 3,500kg per cart, which is an enormous volume because the materials are lightweight. It takes 100 water bottles or drinks cans to make one kilogramme,” says Coulas.
Coulas says the income of the scavengers could potentially rise from $2.50 using only a bag to up to $7 per day using the cart.
He says the project also injects money into the local economy by providing work to local businesses and especially local welding shops.
Coulas says during this most recent phase, he also hired a woman who had once been a scavenger at the notorious Stung Meanchey landfill, which was closed in 2009.
“Samorn’s mother died when she was 11 years old, and luckily, Samorn was selected by A New Day in Cambodia, where she found a safe place to live and received an education. Now she is studying at university and working to help distribute Green Scavengers.
“The entire city of Phnom Penh receives benefit from waste reduction. In fact, the entire planet is receiving benefit from waste reduction and the reuse of plastics and metals,” he says.
Coulas says the project remains focused on distributing more carts but will also expand to education to help the scavengers carry out their work more efficiently and in line with local laws.
He says funds can still be contributed through Go Fund Me, adding that the Green Scavenger project will eventually be absorbed by a local NGO in order to raise more funds to hand over carts to waste pickers.
“Currently, we are in the process of transitioning from a private initiative to a local NGO, Clear [Cooperation for Livelihood, Education and Rights],” says Coulas, adding: “This should lead to funding from donor organisations, which would allow for the expansion of the project.”
He says the expansion would include the construction and distribution of more Green Scavenger carts, as the need is very high. It is estimated there are more than 2,000 collectors in Phnom Penh alone.
Green Scavenger distribution could expand into other towns such as Sihanoukville, Kampot and Siem Reap, he noted.