For about a decade, a Cambodian recycling company has recycled tonnes of waste into recyclables. It is planning to expand its business to provinces and cities across the country to revitalise old plastic waste, foam and aluminum cans. By doing so, it will contribute even further to reducing the burden of garbage on earth and improve the environment in Cambodia.

Pech Sotha, general manager of the Lim Vanny Plastic Recycle Company – which covers an area of about 5ha in Prek Kampues commune, in the capital’s Dangkor district – said that waste processing machines have been installed in Kampong Speu, Kandal and Kampong Cham provinces.

“My plan is to expand to all the 24 provinces, to expand almost everywhere,” he told The Post.

The company was established in 2014 after he learned recycling techniques abroad.

He began with aluminum smelting, usually using beer cans and old cooking pots. This process allowed him to manufacture plows, as well as new pots and pans.

The success of the aluminum recycling prompted him to expand into processing foam and plastic bags into semi-finished raw materials, ready for recycling.

After just three months, he was able to sell locally processed products, and even export them to neighboring countries.

Clean, new products

He said that aluminum smelting is done in Boeung Tompun commune of the capital’s Meanchey district.

“Apart from the recycled can products, we offer six other items. We produce two different types of foam, two types of large sacks – in white and blue – and two kinds of plastic bag. The plastic bags are available in black or white,” he said.

The waste employed is purchased from markets, factories and scrap collectors.

Old plastic bags, foam and old sacks are piled up like mountains at the company’s sites, where they are stored for between one week and one month in order to neutralise the smell of garbage.

“Once it has been exposed to the elements – the fresh air and the rain – the odour generally fades away. It doesn’t completely disappear, but it is reduced by as much as 60 per cent,” he added.

More than 40 employees at the site classify the bags by their material and colours. To make white plastic bags, the workers need to remove any scotch tape or paper attached to the bag. They can only use the cleanest bags to produce new white products.

“Our staff separate the rubbish. For white PE (Polyethylene), we choose clean bags to turn into new bags for our customers,” he said.

Black bags are made by mixing blue, red, black and yellow bags together. The workers still need to distinguish between hard and brittle plastic, however.

“Bags of any colour can be used to make black plastic bags,” said Sotha.

Foam is processed into pellets, which can then be used to make various products.

“The used foam that we recycle is turned into pellets which can then be turned into foam boxes,” he explained.

Rice sacks are separated into blue and white before being passed through a grinder which tears them into small pieces. The pieces are then brought to a large tank.

“We have a tank, which spins like a wheel of a cart. When the pieces in the tank are spun around they are washed clean. Afterwards, we put them into a kiln which produces the final product,” he said.

A family affair

Lim Vanny Plastic Recycle employs many couples and families, and many of their staff are more than 50 years old.

“Here, we hire a lot of old people who are over 50 years old. Their labour output is reduced, so they have difficulty finding work and earning an income,” he said.

“From my observations, the workers who are over 50 years old don’t get ill because of the recycling process. Occasionally they will catch small colds, but they are not affected by the small of the garbage,” he added.

The company is one of twelve 12 individuals and legal entities which received letters of commendation for environmental friendliness from the Ministry of Environment in 2019.

Sotha asked citizens to help with recycling by separating their trash. This made it easier for garbage collectors and scavengers to collect the products which they could sell at the recycling plant.

His business advises people to separate the solid and liquid waste so that scavengers do not create a mess by tearing open garbage bags. The correct organisation of rubbish made it not just easier for his company and the people who sell to him, but maintained order and hygiene and kept the environment clean around people’s homes.

“If our people were more aware of waste separation, it would be great, as we will get garbage from the scrap dealers which has already been sorted into the correct types,” he added.

According to a report by the Ministry of Environment, Cambodia produces more than 4 million tonnes of garbage a year and more than 10,000 tonnes per day. In Phnom Penh alone, between 2,700 and 3,000 tonnes of garbage are generated per day.

Supporting government policy

Net Pheaktra, secretary of state and spokesman for the ministry, said that between 60 and 65 per cent of the waste was organic and could be recycled into compost or other materials. About 20 per cent was recyclable plastic, with the remainder being solid waste.

The government has established a policy to manage solid waste in urban areas and requires the separation of waste by organic, plastic and solid.

In order to control and reduce the use of plastics, the government has also issued a number of sub-decrees and guidelines.

The first was a ban on the import of plastic bags with a thickness of more than 0.03 mm and the second was the imposition of additional taxes. The third was to charge extra for the use of plastics in super markets. The fourth was to encourage investment in the production of consumer goods made of bioplastics. The final was a campaign to change people’s mindsets when it came to plastic use.

“We ask that people change their attitudes to reduce the use of plastic. Where possible, they should use cups, plates, spoons and straws made of materials which break down naturally,” said Pheaktra.

Many restaurants have transitioned to the use of straws made of paper, bamboo, metal or other natural plant-based materials, he added.

He said that the public was now more aware of the negative impacts of plastic use, and were turning to environmentally friendly baskets and bottles.

“Several restaurants have implemented a zero plastic policy, as have some schools. This is positive step forward in the management of plastic in Cambodia,” he told The Post.

The environment ministry has implementing the 4R principles: reuse, reduction, recycling and rejection.

Sotha said that Lim Vanny Plastic Recycling receives garbage from provinces all across the Kingdom.

“Every day I try to encourage businesses from all provinces to bring their waste products to us. We now collect waste from as far away as Poipet and Preah Sihanouk,” he said.

According to Sotha, his company processes between 50 and 100 tonnes of garbage per day, turning it into 15 to 20 tonnes of recycled products.