In Battambang town, managing waste has become a notable concern amid rising urbanisation. Homes, businesses and industries contribute significantly to the waste stream, collected by municipal services and taken to local dumpsites. 

This assortment of materials, ranging from organics to plastics and industrial by-products, mirrors the daily activities of the growing urban population. 

Coping with this escalating waste volume brings about environmental and health challenges, prompting the need for effective disposal solutions.

As urban development progresses, the essential 8ha landfill in Chrey Kong village, Slaket commune, at the heart of Battambang town, is now integral to the town functionality. This significance has led the local government to consider constructing a new site.

“The previous site, now within an urban area, is unsuitable for garbage storage due to potential adverse effects on residents,” Vong Piseth, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, says.

In the landfill, dedicated individuals engage in recycling efforts. Surrounded by remnants of consumption, these workers sift through heaps of discarded materials, extracting plastics and segregating electronic waste, preparing them for a renewed purpose. 

Their hands move skilfully, driven by a sense of purpose, as they strive to mitigate the environmental impact of waste. 

Each piece of plastic they pack and every electronic component they dismantle adds to a broader narrative of resourcefulness and resilience. 

“Their work reflects ongoing efforts to address waste management challenges and promote a more sustainable cycle of use and reuse,” Piseth says.

This initiative not only helps address the issue of landfill overflow but also highlights the crucial role grassroots efforts play in environmental conservation. While most rubbish is recycled, the site has implications for the health of those living nearby. 

Waste management milestone

Recognising these challenges, a significant development in waste management emerged with the recent establishment of a Material Recovery Facility.

Initiated in April 2021, and completed one year later, this project, with a construction cost of $6.28M, is situated in Poi Svay village, Ta Kream commune, Banan district. 

Spanning nearly 3ha, the landfill has a capacity of close to 315,000 cubic meters and is part of an almost 21ha site, representing a proactive step towards sustainable waste management in the region.

Piseth states the significance of solid waste management, noting the potential to view garbage beyond its typical inconvenience.

“We utilise approximately 70 per cent of the waste by turning it into compost and repurposing plastic, a significant environmental pollutant. This aligns with the government’s vision to prevent pollution,” he says.

With financial backing from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the facility can handle garbage for the next decade. Positioned to benefit over 120,000 people, this sustainable site receives approximately 100 tonnes of garbage daily, functioning as a landfill for nearby communes.

Piseth underscores collaborative initiatives involving the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and ADB partners. Their goal is to reduce the number of landfills, mitigating environmental impacts associated with garbage and odours.

Jyotsana Varma, ADB country director for Cambodia, observes that swift urban and industrial development has led to a notable increase in the solid waste generated by cities like Battambang.

Consequently, the local authority has enlisted a nearby firm to assist in collecting and recycling plastic waste. This effort is supported at the recovery facility, funded by the Urban Environmental Infrastructure Fund administered by ADB. 

Carbon footprint reduction

“Since the facility started operating, it has contributed to reducing carbon footprints by sorting and recycling plastic waste, addressing a growing concern in Cambodia,” Varma says.

Material recovery workers sort plastic at the new landfill in Battambang province on December 9.Hong Raksmey

She states that local authorities acknowledge the crucial role played by this facility in enhancing sanitation and the environment, in Battambang.

“With an investment of nearly $550,000, this facility has become a key player in improving local sanitation and environmental standards,” she says.

She highlights its diverse impact, covering climate change mitigation and local employment support. 

Varma points out the facility’s capacity to serve about 128,000 residents, emphasising its contribution to creating a market for plastic recycling, supporting agriculture through compost production and reducing the build up of non-biodegradable waste.

“It’s a classic case of turning waste into wealth that generates substantial income for stakeholders involved,” she says.

Beyond the economic gains, she highlights the facility’s role in preserving the city’s cleanliness and ecological wellbeing, not only enhancing sustainability but also significantly improving life in the region.

Her insights indicate that even with limited funds strategic investments in waste management can bring substantial benefits to the community and the environment.

At the new landfill, collaboration between heavy machinery and dedicated workers is evident. The landscape reflects planning, featuring designated zones for sorting and machinery operation.

The facility is operating effectively, managing and recycling plastic waste collected from various areas, including roads, cities, waterways, fields and suburbs. It contributes to making Battambang cleaner, greener and more liveable. 

“The facility is creating job opportunities for 13 local workers, including six women,” she says. 

Landfill longevity goal

Plastic waste has a prolonged underground presence, releasing harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil, potentially contaminating groundwater, water tables and the wider ecosystem. 

Looking ahead, the aim is to transport 300 tonnes of garbage daily to the new landfill, prolonging its usefulness until 2040.

Piseth details the features of the new landfill, including an administrative building, a waste sorting facility, a vehicle weigh-in area leading to the car wash zone, a workshop for waste sorting staff, and four ponds for wastewater treatment before discharge for irrigation and gas extraction from the garbage.

“For the next 10 years, the waste buried here can be turned into compost,” he mentions.

“But if we don’t use it as fertilizer, it can develop into a hill that can be planted with trees and eventually become a green field,” he says.

The project seeks to improve the appearance of the city, draw in tourists, foster investment in industries and factories and create numerous jobs in garbage collection services, transportation, and planting.

Piseth encourages people to engage in the correct storage and sorting of garbage through appropriate packaging.

He says that this is a collective task that requires collaboration at all levels, from leaders to children.

Environmental considerations are integrated into the hazardous waste storage and treatment facilities, storm drain system, and waste water storage and treatment ponds, as outlined in detailed plans from the public works ministry.

The project includes a final cover system for waste management, substantial tree planting to enrich the ecological balance and connection to the national electricity grid.