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Phnom Penh struggles with its garbage

Phnom Penh struggles with its garbage

High on the list of objectives for city planners are the provision of three key services:

drinkable water, regular electricity, and efficient garbage collection.

The first two are now more or less continuously available to the people of Phnom


The third is a major headache in this rapidly-growing urban area, and a constant

challenge for the Municipality of Phnom Penh (MPP) and its sole garbage collection

contractor, Cintri.

Uncollected waste attracts vermin, flies, disease, and blocks drains (many streets

flood because the drains are clogged with garbage), and even affects property values.

The sight and stink of uncollected garbage and rubbish fires is one of the first

things visitors notice when they arrive in the capital. Visitors may arrive thinking

they are visiting the movie-popularized "City of Ghosts"; they depart with

the impression, "City of Garbage."

However, garbage collection and disposal in Phnom Penh is undergoing positive changes,

defined by the city's first-ever Solid Waste Management Strategy, being developed

and paid for by the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA).

According to waste consultant Junji Anai the challenge is to efficiently collect

all waste and dispose of it in a properly designed and managed sanitary landfill,

to achieve a sustainable system by 2015. By then, the city's population will have

doubled to 2 million, and so will the garbage production.

A new 100 hectare landfill site has been purchased at Dang Kor, in the southwest

quadrant of the city. The Cambodian Government provided the $7 million purchase price.

The landfill will take up to five years to prepare.

In the meantime the life of the existing overburdened Stung Meanchey garbage dump

will be extended by up to five years by MPP leasing 3.6 ha of adjoining land.

The Stung Meanchey dump will then be progressively closed down, covered and degassed,

for eventual recreational use (though it will remain unstable and hazardous for many


The capital cost of these and other major items is the subject of a funding request

from the Cambodia Government to the Japanese Government. This is currently held up

by disagreement between the waste collection company Cintri and the MPP.

In November last year Cintri, after only 14 months of operation, was on the verge

of bankruptcy because of low fee collection and was forced to lay off half its 900

street sweepers. The then owner, Pascal Patrice, was reported as saying collection

fees were set low to encourage payment, but it had not worked. "If you don't

pay the fee for electricity, water or telephone, the service will be cut off. The

same rule will apply for the waste collection," he said at the time.

Shortly after this, a management buyout was engineered by the now Cintri director

Tep Rethyvith.

Rethyvith declined to answer questions, except to say that he and his fellow investors

are working hard to repair damage done under the previous ownership, and all revenue

is being used to buy new trucks and expand operations.

However, his administration manager, Kosal Sim, talked freely about some of the major

issues at a recent workshop on solid waste, organized by the MPP and funded by the

UNDP eco-partnership program.

Sim said: "People always blame Cintri if the garbage is not collected. Often

we don't know where we are supposed to collect the garbage. We cannot give an exact

time of collection. We're not perfect but it's not always our fault. If the garbage

is out on time it will be collected, except when the dump is too wet for our trucks.

In the rainy season we sometimes cannot get into the dump for two days. This is very

distressing for our staff and the company directors, because we are all trying to

do our best. It's a tough business.

"I suggest to the district chiefs that Cintri cannot carry this heavy burden

alone. There has to be much better communication between Cintri, MPP and the city


"We employ a total of 1,000 street sweepers and garbage collectors. Their basic

salary range is between 160,000 and 340,000 riel per month ($40 to $85). People say

the sweepers make too much dust; they don't like their cars getting dusty. How can

we do it without making dust? We're told to sweep at night but there would be personal

security problems for our sweepers.

"Our sweepers and collectors already get hit by traffic. Every month 10 are

injured in some way. We can't sweep where cars are parked. We have many problems

with people parking. Why do people look down on our workers?

"There is too much waste to cope with. We need the public to help. We have two

shifts, day and night, people using their hands to load stinking piles of waste in

the street, at two o'clock in the morning.

"Our collection is faster, cleaner and more efficient than previous owner [did].

We have more trucks, capacity over 1,000 tons. We are progressively upgrading the

whole fleet. We're not making any money.

"Some people won't pay the fees; they say the service is inadequate and costly.

But what is expensive and what is cheap? We need different prices for different floor

levels of buildings. Disputes are difficult to deal with. Many people don't care.

They throw the garbage out the door or off their balcony, or in the end of some narrow

alley and expect Cintri to clean it up.

"The districts and communes are responsible for setting and communicating the

collection times. We want to know who is the contact person in each area so we can

communicate quickly if there is a problem. We want to solve the problems through

dialogue; we're not interested in who is right and wrong. Cintri is open 24 hours

a day. If anyone has a problem with service fees they can discuss with us. If we

don't talk we can't find a solution. We can't assure 100 percent service, we make

mistakes, things go wrong, we're not perfect.

"Solid waste management is the obligation of everyone.

"We are a progressive company, we believe in what we're doing. We are committed

to a cleaner city.

"In the longer term we hope to spread out to Siem Reap and Battambang where

there are major garbage problems. Our objective is to be a countrywide garbage contractor."

Waste at a glance


Waste disposal is major problem in growing city
* Existing dump overloaded, must be closed

* New landfill site chosen, will take 5 years to prepare

* Cintri keeps collection monopoly

* Waste collection system to be extended

* Sangkats to collect monthly fees for 10% commission

* Containerised collection tested in three city zones

* Recycling and separation at source to be tested

* Composting plant part of new landfill

* Wastepickers to be registered, vaccinated

* Cost of collection and disposal will increase


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