Cambodia has offered support for a South Korean firm’s proposal to study the possibility of recycling waste into fuel to generate energy.

The Kingdom currently produces about four million tonnes of rubbish each year, according to the Ministry of Environment.

Prime Minister Hun Sen lent his support during his meeting with outgoing South Korean ambassador Park Heung-kyeong on December 19 at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh.

The premier’s personal assistant, Eang Sophalleth, said that at the meeting, Park requested support for ECOCAM’s garbage recycling-energy production scheme.

Hun Sen has referred the proposal to Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) secretary-general Sok Chenda Sophea, who will work in collaboration with Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem and the Phnom Penh Municipal Hall to facilitate the feasibility study.

The environment ministry said Cambodia produces more than 10,000 tonnes of waste per day, with Phnom Penh alone accounting for between 2,700 and 3,000 tonnes.

Out of the daily tonnage of garbage, food waste makes up 57 per cent; plastic waste about 18 per cent; paper waste six per cent; rubber and similar wastes about 0.2 per cent. Grass, wood, fabric and stone waste amount to 18 per cent.

Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC) economics researcher Ky Sereyvath said South Korea is already experienced with recycling garbage into energy, and such systems often rely on people to sort out their waste on their own for the sake of the environment, energy and people’s welfare.

“This is good, especially if household waste could be used for energy. It is very good to support recycling garbage into any sort of energy,” he said.

Fearing the possibility of imports of garbage from abroad as mechanisms to produce this energy once the power plant is up and running, he suggested that the government and relevant parties ban the import of garbage and waste into the country, especially under disguise as other goods or for other purposes.

Heng Kimhong, research and advocacy programme manager at the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN), supported the scheme, saying that it allows Cambodia to do its best to manage waste, protect the environment and accelerate trash collection to prevent garbage being strewn about the streets.

He asked that the government accelerate the scheme and encourage and boost investment in recycling garbage into energy-producing fuel because waste management in Cambodia needs improvement.

“I am still optimistic about this recycling because it could be an incentive to ensure that garbage collection measures are faster, up-to-standard and done correctly. It can also reduce toxic substances coming from certain waste and help make people’s living environments more comfortable,” Kimhong added.

Separately, Hun Sen also met with outgoing Australian ambassador Pablo Kang at the Peace Palace on the same day. The premier thanked the Australian government for providing Cambodia with Covid-19 vaccines, vaccine cabinets and other assistance before, during and after the pandemic.

“This assistance is really important to curb the spread of Covid-19, which is a quiet killer. Your assistance helped the Cambodian people survive Covid-19 with minimal casualties, which was the most important goal for the country. Without survival first, there is no need to bother talking about any other rights,” Hun Sen said.

Hun Sen also thanked Australia for supporting Cambodia in its chairmanship of ASEAN, adding that Kang had done his best to bolster relationships and cooperation between the two countries, including in the agricultural sector.

Hun Sen reminisced with Kang about the confused and sometimes alarming early days of the pandemic, saying that allowing the MS Westerdam cruise ship to dock in an emergency during the 2020 pandemic was a testament to Cambodia’s humanitarian values, which puts the right to life above all else.

He recalled that if Cambodia did not allow Westerdam to dock, it was not known what the destiny of the passengers would have ended up being after several countries denied it the ability to dock out of Covid-19 fears, noting that if the Kingdom did not take action there was no “plan B” for their rescue at that stage.

In a social media post, Hun Sen quoted Kang as saying that despite his diplomatic mission taking place during the pandemic and thereby limiting some of the normal ambassadorial duties, he was proud of the strengthened cooperation and improved relationships. They were not only related to Covid-19, but also in areas such as mine assistance, scholarships, military cooperation and free trade.

RAC secretary-general Yang Peou said Hun Sen’s statement about the right to life was an important one to make regarding the Kingdom’s basic values. For Cambodia, that means building peace and preserving it was the most necessary factor to guarantee people better lives and maintain social order.

“So, the prime minister made mention of this right because Australia was founded in the tradition of western-style democracy and rights and Australia tends to raise democracy and rights issues with our country during diplomacy.

“Therefore, he wants them to understand what human rights means in Cambodia, as mentioned earlier: We must have peace first and then human rights, civil rights and everything will naturally follow.

“Once there is peace, the right to engage in politics, the right to life, the right to free expression and all of the other rights fall into place smoothly,” he added.

Addition from the reporter Chea Sokny