NGO Brings Trash Problem Into Greater Focus

Phnom Penh’s ever-growing garbage problem is not going away, but on Friday its scope became clearer as the Asia Foundation presented two years of research into the city’s present and future solid waste generation, along with suggestions on how to cope with the mess.

The research presents a long-overdue analysis of per capita waste generation and how much it is likely to increase over the next decade, while underlining the urgent issue of where waste should go when existing landfill space runs out in as little as five years’ time. 

As of 2013, Phnom Penh produced about 1,286 tons of solid waste per day, but by 2030, it is estimated to more than double to 3,112 tons per day, according to the research, conducted in partnership with the Institute of Technology and Cambodian Education and Waste Management Organization.

According to the study, the city’s two remaining dump areas at the Dangkor landfill will reach capacity by 2020, while refuse being produced by residents is no longer mostly organic but increasingly composed of plastics that are difficult to compost.

Jon Morales, program manager for the Asia Foundation’s urban services program, said that without an effective strategy to combat the increasing waste, Phnom Penh may have to unload the burden elsewhere.

“The worst case scenario is that the government will have to ship solid waste out of the city somehow as appropriate land for landfills will rapidly dwindle in the next few years,” he said.

“This would significantly increase the cost of garbage collection because of the distance trucks would need to travel, which may be beyond sustainable levels since the willingness to pay for waste services is not very high to begin with.”

City Hall has repeatedly threatened to cancel its contract with Cintri, the city’s sole trash collector, which has struggled to keep up with the city’s expansion, a situation exacerbated by worker strikes over the past two years.

Municipal spokesman Long Di­manche said the city was looking for ways to not only improve its waste management, but turn some of the trash into electricity.

“We know there are challenges and City Hall is working on them and considering calling in private companies to invest in waste processing that will convert to electricity,” Mr. Dimanche said.

Environment Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap said private interest in producing electricity from biomass did not change the fact that Cambodia was still unable to separate organic and inorganic waste.

“Cambodia has still not got waste management that can separate our waste,” he said, adding that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been asked to produce a plan to overcome the challenges.

“We hope that JICA will help us lay down a strategy based on their experience, while at the same time, we are working hard on our own initiatives such as decentralization and to bring in the expertise of private companies.”

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