The Ministry of Environment and several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on environmental issues in Cambodia have expressed concern over the growing amount of plastic waste in Cambodia’s waterways, as many fishermen are now complaining that they have caught more rubbish than fish over the past five years.

Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post that plastic waste was of common concern all over the world, including in Cambodia.

An analysis of the global consumption trends of plastic products indicates that plastic waste will increase from 400 million tonnes per year to 600 million tonnes by 2025. Barring some drastic government intervention or change in policy regarding plastic products, Cambodia will have to deal with its share of this increase.

Pheaktra said disposal of plastic waste into bodies of water had become a serious issue in Cambodia and solving this problem will require commitment from all stakeholders. Long-term damage could be done to Cambodia’s waters if plastic continues to accumulate there.

“Disposal of rubbish into water sources not only harms the environment, but also the biodiversity of life within the water. At this point, we have disseminated education and guidance to the people,” he said.

While the problem of plastic waste will be a challenge, Pheaktra said the most important factors in overcoming it will be educating people to implement proper waste management practices, encouraging waste recycling and getting people to reduce their use of plastics.

“The practice of separating different kinds of rubbish at home and at work is a necessary step to be able to efficiently recycle plastic waste. We know that plastic waste does not decompose easily, but when it does decompose it still has a significant impact on the environment [as micro-plastic particles]. We must strengthen measures to limit the use of plastic and the importation of unnecessary plastic,” he said.

According to the UN Development Program (UNDP), 80 per cent of the rubbish found on Cambodia’s coast consists of plastic waste. The organisation is concerned that plastic waste will have a serious impact on the coastal environment, not only destroying its beauty but also its ecology and biodiversity.

UNDP Resident Representative Nick Beresford said: “Cambodia is not a major producer of plastic products and most plastic items are imported. At the same time, Cambodia does not yet have adequate infrastructure or sufficiently advanced technologies for waste management and recycling.

“Action is required to reduce the volume of plastic waste in Cambodia and to better manage, recycle or reuse it. First, the import and sale of single-use plastic can be more strictly regulated and we all need to significantly cut down on our use of single-use plastic and adopt sustainable alternatives.”

In its Facebook post on December 8, the nature conservation organisation Wonders of the Mekong said there seems to be far fewer fish in the water in recent years – a contrast to an old Cambodian saying that has been repeated for generations: “Where there is water, there are fish.”

“There are many kinds of rubbish that fishermen catch from the river now, but not many fish. As the population grows, so does the amount of rubbish, especially plastic waste,” the organisation said.

It explained that one reason that so much rubbish ends up in the water is the presence of many families living along the banks of the rivers and lakes who toss it in the water to dispose of it.

The residents, it said, may not be aware that the rubbish they dispose of in the river daily mostly sinks to the bottom of the river, eventually killing the fish that every Cambodian has traditionally relied on as one of the nation’s primary sources of food.

The organisation also posted several photos taken from the Tonle Sap River in Prek Ta Sek commune in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district, showing some of the rubbish pulled by fishermen from the river that had already managed to entangle and kill fish.

Wonders of the Mekong implored people living near bodies of water to stop using the water as a rubbish dump.

“Please consider choosing other options, such as keeping rubbish in the house before the rubbish collection agency collects it.

“We can all be part of the solution to these problems. We can work together to keep our rivers healthy and ensure a sustainable source of high-protein food [fish] for the future,” it said.

However, according to Pheaktra, recycling rubbish in Cambodia today is still problematic because the country does not have the necessary recycling facilities and currently could only recycle 10 per cent of its total recyclable waste output.