WITH about 500 tonnes of garbage produced a day in Phnom Penh, experts are weighing
up how to cope with what is becoming a mounting problem.
Two German technical advisers are studying ways to improve waste management in Phnom
Penh and are suggesting organized recycling.
"Since we arrived in February, we have spotted big collection and transportation
problems," said Thomas Bertram, head of solid-waste management for the Municipality
The Phnom Penh Municipality says it has no plans for recycling at this stage. Very
little is recycled in Cambodia, though some waste material is sold to middlemen and
sent to recycling plants in Thailand and Vietnam.
But solutions - including sites for new refuse dumps - are likely to have to be found
The Department of Public Works says that, at a total of 500 tonnes a day, Phnom Penh's
amount of refuse has more than doubled in the past four years.
As the economy evolves, vegetable waste is being added to by increased volumes of
plastic, paper, and metal.
Garbage is collected in Phnom Penh by the Environment Development Co Ltd (ENV), a
private German company, and taken to Stung Mean Chey - the only official dump in
Phnom Penh since 1960 - about five kilometers south of the city center.
Teruo Jinnai, a United Nations financial advisor to Phnom Penh Municipality, agreed
that problems will arise soon from only having one dump, as the capital's population
The population of Phnom Penh, approximately one million, is growing rapidly with
a potential increase of 40 to 50 per cent, according to the Ministry of Industry.
"Until now we've been fortunate with a rather small population but now we seriously
have to start planning a feasible solid-waste management project," said Jinnai.
The German experts have pointed out three potential sites for other garbage dumps,
in Dang Kor district, on the western boundary of the city. They propose that Stung
Mean Chey become a transfer point to other landfill sites.
Municipal deputy cabinet chief Kim Saysamlen said the real problem is not of space
but of environmental concerns. "Winds blowing towards the city during the monsoon
drive smoke towards Phnom Penh and polluted water enters wells used by people living
in the area," he said.
The dump could still be used for two or three more years, he says, but the Ministry
of Environment has asked the Municipality to find a solution for neigboring residents.
The dump site will need to be slightly inclined so that rain water can flow. "The
place has to be feasible according to climatic, geologic, hydrologic, and economic
criteria and of course kept secret to avoid land price increases," said ENV
director Peter Berkholz.
ENV pays the Municipality $24,000 per year for exclusive refuse-collection rights.
The company has been given a 50-year franchise with the understanding that all refuse
will be collected in the city.
"There are still difficulties with ENV and we already had people complaining
because of uncollected trash," said Jinnai.
The company charges residents, business, restaurants or embassies a variable monthly
fee to collect their trash. Apartment residents pay 2,000 Riel, while foreigners
renting a villa pay $20 and embassies $200. Schools, pagodas, and hospitals are not
ENV works as a privately-owned public service. A municipality body monitors its activities
to ensure complaince with its contractual obligations. "The Municipality can
request ENV to collect again if necessary," said Jinnai.
Since commencing operations December 1996, ENV's director claims it has lost an average
$50,000 a month and that only 20 percent of the fees are paid. ENV also reports corruption
among its own 80 collectors.
The monopoly leaves uncollected waste in various parts of the city, especially poor
areas. "Garbage collection trucks are rarely seen on many streets. In the Boeung
Kang Kong area, the garbage is collected twice a week," said Robert Deutsch,
a consultant for Partnership for Development in Cambodia (PADEK).
"ENV's work is not 100 percent, but still it is better than any other system
we have had," said Saysamlen.
In 1979, the Department of Public Works was responsible for collection. When it proved
too costly, French company Pacific Asie de Developpement (PAD) paid $54,000 for exclusive
rights in 1993. After the company went bankrupt, the Municipality contracted Cambodian-owned
Phnom Penh Cleansing (PPC) in August 1995 for the franchise. PPC abandoned operations
"Repeated changes of contractors will not bring a solution. The problem is that
it should be a Municipality job," said Jinnai.