Workers packing plastic rubbish to go home to Korea say the Korean embassy
is footing the bill
IFTEEN MONTHS after being dumped unceremoniously on the outskirts of Sihanoukville,
some 60 tons of plastic film waste is being prepared for reshipment back to its point
of origin in South Korea.
The waste was imported last May by a local company called Sophat International and
dumped on a side road near the Cambrew Brewery in Sihanoukville.
In January, Khieu Sophat, a local RCAF officer and the owner of Sophat International,
was jailed for not having a license to import the material.
The waste was imported under the pretense of being destined for recycling into nylon
rope. No facilities for the production of such rope currently exist in Cambodia.
Clean-up of the site began on July 10 and is expected to be completed by July 24.
When visited by Post staff last on July 17, the site was crowded with approximately
40 local men, women and children stuffing the huge piles of plastic into sacks.
Workers monitoring the waste repackaging told the Post that the clean-up is being
paid for by the South Korean Embassy.
"They are paying us US$35 for each cargo container of waste we fill," the
worker explained. "We each get about 8000 riel per day."
Attempts by the Post to confirm the Korean Embassy's role in removing the waste were
According to Legal Action Cambodia's representative in Sihanoukville, Am Sokha, this
is not the first attempt to remedy the Korean waste dumping problem.
"Originally, they tried to burn the waste, but it smelled too bad so they stopped,"
According to Cambodia's Environment Minister, Dr Mok Mareth, the removal of the waste
is a relative victory in Cam-bodia's battle against illegal waste dumping by unscrupulous
"Compared to a similar dumping case in Australia that took three years to resolve,
[15 months] isn't very long," Mareth explained. "We should thank the [Korean]
government for solving this problem so quickly."
According to Heng Narith, Director of the Environment Ministry's Department of Pollution
Control, the lack of protective clothing for workers at the site was not a problem.
"The waste is safe ... it poses no harm to the environment," Narith told
However, Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network, a group of activists dedicated
to banning global waste trafficking, said that to his knowledge the waste was of
"It is insufficient to presume material is non-toxic when dumped in this manner,
even though it looks like waste plastic," Puckett explained by email. "In
the past there have been incidents where toxic chemicals are mixed in with seemingly
benign waste and 'co-disposed'."
However, workers on the site complained of no adverse health affects from handling
"Headaches?" one man responded to a Post inquiry about possible side-effects
from handling the waste. "Not having a job is a headache."