After several months of pandemic-induced postponement, Cambodia’s first Repair Fair is finally going to happen and anyone with something broken that they’d like fixed is welcome to attend this coming Sunday, April 24.
Sandy Kotan – the founder of Only One Planet Cambodia – has been on a mission to reduce plastic waste by providing environmentally friendly alternatives since 2015. She’s originally from Arizona, but considers Cambodia her “second home”.
She came up with the idea for Cambodia’s first Repair Fair and the event is focused on all recycling, reducing, reusing and repurposing items that would otherwise go to waste and be buried in landfills – as well as supporting local small businesses.
Unfortunately, the event was repeatedly cancelled due to Covid-19, but Kotan never gave up hope and now it looks like it will finally take place.
Kotan has high hopes that this time nothing will get in the way of holding the event and those who attend can get all of their broken or recyclable stuff ready and bring it on Sunday from 10am–5pm at Gateway House.
“We’re really excited about it! We had great momentum going last year and we hope that an event like this will not only help people become more environmentally friendly, but they can also meet the vendors of some great plastic-free items and get more engaged with eco topics and events,” Kotan tells The Post.
Kotan says that many people have stacks of things lying around their homes that are broken but they keep them because they know they can probably be repaired, so they still retain value. But the longer amount of time an item stays broken and unused the more likely it is to end up in the rubbish bin.
“We are bringing together a bunch of people who can fix things. Right now we have people who can do shoe repairs, simple clothing repairs, bags, luggage, watch batteries, bicycles, jewellery and more. We will also have some food and retail vendors but all with a sustainable or recycled product theme,” says Kotan.
Kotan explains that the idea for the repair fair came about when she joined the “Phnom Penh Minimalist and Freecycle” Facebook group started by Irina Chakraborty from Bong Bonlai and YK Art House.
The group is for people who want to give away things that they no longer need and for people to ask for things in case anyone wants to recycle something instead of just throwing it out.
After noticing a lot of people were posting different things to the group that they were getting rid of because they were broken, Kotan decided to do something about it.
“We searched Facebook for posts where people recommended vendors. We asked friends, colleagues and business partners. We wanted to know that the people we enlisted were going to be reliable and good at what they do, so recommendations were important to the selection process,” she says.
Finding all of the necessary participants took some time and effort, however.
“The retail vendors are already well-versed with ‘eco issues’ and they were all quite happy to join an event that focused on earth-friendly products like theirs only. The repair vendors were a bit harder to convince as this is something new for them.
“We hope that by joining we will support the local vendors and help them grow their businesses. We will continue to support and recommend them in the future, not just for this event. Many repair shops are small businesses, so it is hard for them to completely close up shop on a Sunday to attend,” she says.
Kotan says that people should be motivated to attend the fair because making real efforts to keep items out of landfills is increasingly important as the volume of waste increases year after year, but people have become accustomed to buying something new instead of repairing anything.
The planet has limited resources, so when something is manufactured it should be used as long as possible so that people don’t have to keep depleting raw materials to make new items given the Earth’s rising population and the spread of consumerism to new countries like Cambodia as they undergo development.
“We really are at a turning point with micro-plastics invading our organs and our bloodstream – and no one knows how badly this could affect our health. We already know that it is affecting our fertility rates and early childhood development but it will be years still until we fully understand the impacts,” says Kotan.
Entry to the fair is free and everyone is welcome to attend. They can also bring items like glass, batteries or soft plastics to have them recycled.
Kotan says it is really hard to gauge attendance with Facebook events, but more than 500 people have responded as “interested” and they hope to have at least a few hundred people come through in one day.
“If we get more than that I will be very happy,” she says.
She says that if the event is successful she might organise future fairs or do two of them per year, but they will see how this one goes first.
Kotan also says she is in the final stages for launching a bilingual “Eco Business” website soon that they hope will become a “one stop resource” for all things related to environmentalism in Cambodia.
It will list businesses like restaurants, bars, hotels and retail shops that have eliminated single-use plastics from their operations and also be a searchable resource for articles and publications and a directory that lists recyclers. It will cover all of Cambodia and will include map links as well to make it easier to find places close to you, Kotan says.
“Watch our Facebook page for more info, but we are really excited to do this as we do think it will make ‘going green’ both easier and more relatable to everyone in Cambodia. Support the businesses that care about our future! Learn more! Do more!” says Kotan.
April 22 is Earth Day and Only One Planet and its partners want to bring the conversation about the environment back into focus in Cambodia now that the pandemic isn’t as large of an issue and therefore, apart from the repair fair, they’ll be doing Earth Day activities as well, according to Kotan.
There will be a free screening of the documentary The Story of Plastic. The 90-minute documentary is dubbed into Khmer and there will be free popcorn and soda to the first 30 people to arrive at Legend Cinema at Noromall at 2pm on April 22. On April 23 the English version will be screened at Coconut Park.
Then on April 28 at 6:30pm at Le Moon Rooftop Bar they plan to begin having a casual monthly meet-up to network with eco-minded people and discuss projects.
“We plan to make this a monthly event, with a short speaker discussing some topic for maybe 10 to 15 minutes at each gathering as an introduction. This month we’d like to talk about the Pay It Forward glass recycling project, but the floor is open to whatever is on your mind,” says Kotan.
They are also offering free glass recycling – a project that actually started at the beginning of November of last year. She says they have saved over 7,500 kg of glass from going into landfills and they are looking for more venues to host drop-off points, especially in the Riverside area.
Their programme is set up to be self-sustaining – a small charge to the recyclers pays for the transport and to set-up new drop-off locations.
“We feel this is important to ensure that the venues do not bear the financial burden of setting up to be a drop-off point as they are already providing the labour and time to make this work – and it is work for them,” she says.
The businesses that are drop-off points currently are SUZY Anti-Cafe, Amanjaya Pancam Suites Hotel, Kinin, Bong Bonlai /YK Art House, Three Corner Coffee Roaster and Gateway to Khmer.
Kotan says the glass goes to Gaea in Prek Pnov. For now they are just stockpiling it, but they plan to bring in a crushing machine that will turn the glass into sand.
Gaea has a lot of big plans and Kotan says they are really grateful for their efforts and their partnership. They are also trying different ways to pull reusable items out of the recycling stream so that they can be sanitised and reused but that’s a little harder, logistically.
“What I would love to see happen is for a ‘lending library’ of reusable items – which could include books, but also other items – to open in Phnom Penh. Then we could have a single point for people to drop-off or pick-up free reusable glass items – especially jars for local producers of things like yogurt, jams and sauces. It’s a win-win for everybody. We see people looking for these items in large quantity on the minimalist and freecycling group all the time,” she says.
Facebook pages for more info: @onlyoneplanet @phnompenhfreecycle