The “Rubbish Youths” have found a vacant location in Phnom Penh where they have begun recycling plants into biodegradable drinking straws which can be sold cheaply instead of using plastic straws that harm the environment.

The Rubbish Youths are a group of environmentally conscious young people who began clearing litter in the capital and became social media celebrities for cleaning up the Boeung Trabek canal.

The group, who have since expanded to Sihanoukville and beyond, picked up the recycling method after hearing of its use in countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

Rubbish Youths founder San Dara Vit warned of the threat posed to the environment by the huge number of plastic straws that are thrown away every day.

“Single-use plastic is banned in many places, but here it’s all over the place. Plastic straws are almost always used once and thrown away.

“An NGO official has indicated that soon plastic straws will no longer be produced. So we thought it would be a good idea to make a straw that doesn’t harm the environment.

“We make them from the bobos plant [a type of rooting aquatic herbaceous vegetation] which grows everywhere – we don’t buy anything. Our people go and cut down the bobos plants, mostly on riverbanks, and make them into a single long stem,” he said.

Dara Vit said the Rubbish Youths can produce almost 10,000 straws a month and they sell them to businesses like coffee shops. The innovation, he said, has also enabled poor people in the Boeung Trabek community to earn a living.

Rubbish Youth member Chak Usa told The Post they also use treng [another rooting aquatic plant] to make the straws.

“We take the stalks, peel off the outer layer and rinse them. Then we cut them into pieces of the desired size.

“Then we pierce the stalks and clean and polish them with polishing tools. Finally, we put the straws into a machine to kill any bacteria or viruses.

“We don’t use any chemicals at all. We try to produce the straws in a natural way that doesn’t harm the environment and helps reduce the use of plastic,” she said.

Taing Sokleng, a restaurant owner in Kampot province, told The Post on Tuesday that he had recently started using the straws and the majority of foreigners applauded him for doing so.

He said the straws can be cleaned and used again and the price is not much different from that of plastic ones.

“I encourage people not to use plastics. I work with foreigners and they’re very supportive. We hope Kampot will stop using plastic altogether,” Sokleng said.

He said he used about 1,000 plant-based straws per month, which cost $25, and he expected their use to increase.

Tan Reasmey, the director of the Institute for Food Technology and Nutrition at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, told The Post that she was enthusiastic about the idea to reduce the use of plastic because plastic waste degrades very slowly.

“But we have to be sure that the plants we use are well studied. For me, I have never studied them, I have only heard about them from neighbouring countries.

“For example, if we take the treng plant, do other countries also use that variety? We should check its chemical composition,” she said.

However, she encouraged the Rubbish Youths in their endeavours and hoped research would be conducted to ensure that the raw materials would not cause any harm in the long or short term.