Rubbish burning in the city may be a rare occurrence, but in rural areas, the practice remains common even after centuries of modern development in Cambodia.
Waste burning might be an expedient way of cleaning up dump areas, but after repeated fires, it pollutes the air and the ground as well as being hazardous for human health.
“These days, many people still like to burn waste because its an easier method of rubbish disposal,” says Chin Sothun, the Deputy Officer of Solid Waste Management for the Department of Pollution Management. “People living in rural areas don't have a dumpsite or waste collection service like in the city.”
Chin Sothun argues that people don't understand the wider issues of public health and environmental damage caused by waste burning.
According to San Vibol, lecturer of environmental studies of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the smoke from the waste burning activity has a serious effect on our environment.
The smoke can spread around the atmosphere, and once it gathers up in the air, it will precipitate in the form of acid rain, polluting water systems and damaging trees.
“Every time there is a waste burning activity, whether it is caused by humans or is a natural occurrence, it puts pollutants like carbon dioxide, mercury and acid into the atmosphere. These chemicals damage the environment and can cause a lot of different respiratory diseases,” Sothun says.
Lay Borin, school director of Bonteay Trao high school in Takeo Province, says that his school still practices waste burning, but this activity is only conducted when students re off the campus, and the distance between the site of the waste burning and the school grounds is fairly far.
Even so, Borin admitted that waste burning is not a good way to clean up the surrounding environment, given its negative effects.
However, she has no other choice than to burn the rubbish, as there is no refuse collector like in the city area, and the school produces a vast amount of plastic waste in the course of its activities.
San Vibol, confirmed that even though the waste burning is happening far away from the school, the wind will still blow the smoke around a wider area.
“The school principal and the people living in that area should choose a specific place to bury their waste rather than burning it,” Vibol says. “The area should not be near water systems because if people bury it there, the water will be polluted by the waste. After burying waste, people can grow trees on the top of it. For plastic waste, people should recycle by using it several times before throwing it away.”
Chin Sothun added that people should understand the advantages of putting waste into different categories for recycling.
People can make some kinds of household waste food for livestock or organic fertilizer. It is important for authorities to educate people into what waste can be used for, especially the younger generation.
Lay Borin says she looks forward to a day when her school won't need to burn its waste.
“I hope in the future we can recycle waste and re-use it, rather than burn it. If that happened, I would try to understand this new strategy and support it,” Borin says.