It was supposed to be about supermarkets helping the planet by cutting down on plastic bags, but it turned into a war of words—and a veritable duel of conflicting data—over just how many plastic products Phnom Penh’s population discards each day.
On Monday, while discussing City Hall’s latest push to get major supermarkets to cut down on using plastic bags in a bid to protect the environment, deputy municipal governor Chan Som An, who is in charge of waste management at City Hall, said that plastic bags make up 50 percent of the 1,000 tons of trash collected each day in Phnom Penh.
When asked to clarify if 500 tons of plastic bags are really discarded daily, Mr. Som An initially stood by his figure, but later revised his claim to cover all plastic products, and said this high percentage was based on his visual “observations.”
“In my observations, 50 percent is plastic products because if you go to visit the new dumpsite in Dangkao district, you will see how much of an increase there is in plastic products,” said Mr. Som An.
However, Seng Cham Roeun, vice chairman of Cintri, which collects the city’s trash for the municipality, disputed Mr. Som An’s figure.
“I don’t know where they get the data from,” said Mr. Cham Roeun. “I’m very sure that this figure [of 50 percent] is not correct.”
According to Cintri’s data, the city discards about 1,200 tons of waste a day, and about 5 to 7 percent of this is from plastic products. Of that 5 to 7 percent, Cintri’s workers do not isolate the percentage of plastic bags.
Asked about Cintri’s widely conflicting figures on plastic waste, Mr. Som An reasserted his own claim of 50 percent, adding that he had visited the dumpsite to “estimate” the amount of plastic products there.
“How can [Cintri] say 7 percent? Do they have the equipment or method to know how to analyze it?” challenged Mr. Som An.
“We have no equipment to analyze the waste in Cambodia,” Mr. Som An said.
In fact, Cintri analyzes Phnom Penh’s garbage as part of the company’s ongoing research.
Mr. Cham Roeun said Cintri’s workers separate the different materials into their respective corners when the trash arrives at the Dangkao dumpsite, then calculate the amount using dumpsite workers.
Leng Simen, deputy director of the municipality’s waste management department, puts his estimate of the amount of plastic products in the city’s 1,000 tons of garbage at a figure lower than the deputy governor’s but far higher than Cintri’s.
Mr. Simen, who on Monday initially agreed with the 50 percent figure for waste plastic products, revised that estimate down to 30 percent on Tuesday, a figure he said he arrived at because he “can see it.”
A 2009 analysis completed by Comped, an NGO that works on waste management, hewed closer to Cintri’s numbers.
Uch Rithy, Comped’s program officer, said their analysis puts Phnom Penh’s daily trash at 1,005 tons a day, with 6 percent of it consisting of plastic products.
“I don’t know how they can estimate this figure [of 50 percent of 1,000 tons] because we have done this waste analysis…and plastic is not heavy. Its bio-mass, bio-density is very low,” said Mr. Rithy. “You cannot estimate that with your eye.”
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