Aluminum or plastic?
Businesses in Siem Reap are hoping tourists passing through the city will ditch their bottled water habit in favor of refillable aluminum bottles, decreasing the environmental impact of millions of plastic castaways that end up in the trash every year.
Hotels, restaurants and other businesses catering to travelers have set up more than 85 refill stations around major tourist sites and have flooded the city with tens of thousands of the refillable bottles.
“This is a tourism industry-created problem and, therefore, the tourism industry should come up with a solution,” said Christian De Boer, head of the Siem Reap hotel association and one of the initiative’s organizers.
So far, more than 65,000 refilled bottles have been ordered by different businesses, many of which have offered to supply water to refill them for free starting by mid-December, he said.
“The water in the stations is free, in principle, although the business owners are going to pay for them. But that will bring an enormous number of people to their bars and cafes,” said Mr. De Boer, the managing director at Jaya House RiverPark.
Prea Channa, who opened Khmer Kitchen near Pub Street nearly 20 years ago, said he expected the initiative to be long and time-consuming but worth the effort.
“Look at every festival, the way they use cheap bottled water,” he said. “They just drink them and throw them everywhere. If no one collects them, where will they go?”
He considered the initiative a community service, and the money he would spend on the refillable water jugs as a contribution to society.
With more than 40 members of Siem Reap’s nonprofit sector and hospitality and tourism industry participating, organizers said they hoped to keep 175 million plastic bottles out of the garbage over the next four years.
Frequent traveler Ear Uy said he hoped the initiative would succeed, but questioned the resolve of his fellow tourists.
“I think people buy convenience from bottled water,” he wrote in a message. “It’s always good to protect the environment, but to change a habit of convenience to a troublesome one is not easy. It’ll make an impact, but maybe not in a big way.”