Samdech Chea Sim Primary School in Battambang province has become a trailblazer in tackling plastic waste. Selected as a role model among 35 primary schools in the namesake provincial town, the school first initiated a plastic bag-free campaign in 2018.

In a coordinated display of unity, students in sportswear form a grid, proudly holding banners with the message “Today I do not use plastic bags”. 

This campaign, aimed at raising awareness about the environmental impact of plastic bags, reflects the school’s commitment to cleanliness and sustainability.

Khon Yaran, the school’s principal, shared insights in a late December interview with The Post. She highlights the school’s collaboration with the Ministry of Environment in driving awareness campaigns against plastic bag usage.

She mentions that since 2018, the primary school stopped using plastic bags and foam boxes, achieving about 80 per cent implementation from the get-go. Currently, the school boasts a plastic bag and foam box-free environment.

Yaran attributes the school’s success to a systematic approach. Initially, information was disseminated to the teachers in charge of each class, ensuring their understanding and participation. Subsequently, the school expanded its educational efforts to students and sought active involvement from parents and guardians.

Waste warrior wisdom

“Like other teachers, I recognise the value of eliminating plastic bags. Previously, our school used foam boxes and plastic bags, requiring significant resources for waste collection – 30 to 40 garbage bags daily. With improved student awareness, we now use just one or two bags to collect the waste discarded by people,” Yaran explains.

She notes that in the past, when it rained, students collected discarded plastic bags and garbage scattered around the school premises, impacting their health. However, after a series of campaigns, she observes increased understanding, resulting in reduced littering along public streets.

“The school actively engages with parents, and if they miss meetings, we go directly to the village and commune. Seeking support from authorities has contributed to our success. While not quite 100 per cent, we’ve significantly reduced plastic littering,” she says.

She shares that the school occasionally guides students in campaigns to promote the cessation of plastic bag usage. Primary students march along streets and urban areas in Battambang town. The sight of students marching, especially when they recite slogans, captivates people’s interest.

In addressing the garbage issue, when attending commune meetings, she consistently emphasises the need to clean up the school environment. She actively urges commune authorities to cooperate and spread awareness among the community.

“If our school is clean, but our community is full of garbage, it’s a challenge. However, I’ve noticed a reduction in littering in public places compared to before,” she says.

Sustainable sanctuary schools

Try Hak, head of the Office of Education, Youth and Sport in Battambang town, says it is essential to implement the campaign across all educational institutions. He notes the importance of aligning with the national programme, reaching kindergartens, primary and high schools.

He says that all schools in the town focus on garbage collection, particularly addressing the impact of plastic bags. Each school prioritises proper garbage storage, ensuring timely collection by contracted waste disposal firms.

He notes that while schools in Battambang address environmental issues, among the 35 primary schools, only Samdech Chea Sim Primary School stands out as a model for not using plastic bags.

“We’ve been avoiding plastic bags for a while, and now we’re reinforcing this practice so as to create a good, clean school environment for the students’ health,” Hak explains.

Khuon Vicheka, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, says that cultivating clean and healthy school environments is crucial. This practice aims to shape early habits and identities for continuity. The clean school initiative also serves as a vital indicator for achieving model school status.

“The ministry started implementing this initiative in the 2023-2024 school year, extending it to schools at all levels nationwide. The ministry will assess model schools in the near future,” she says.