by Ellen Putri Edita and Hendro Putra Johannes • 5 August 2022

5 August 2022: The Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and the Ministry of Environment of Cambodia co-organised a hybrid seminar titled “Plastic Waste Management – Future Opportunities and Private Sector’s Good Practices in Cambodia”, to highlight the important role of private sectors and share lessons learned of plastic waste management in the country.

In his welcoming remark, Dr Aladdin D. Rillo, Senior Economic Advisor of ERIA, acknowledged the private sector as an important stakeholder that induces consumers’ behaviour change to reduce plastic waste and introduces innovations on plastic waste management and sustainable production and consumption.

‘Our goal is to change the linear way we have been managing plastic across its lifecycle and nudge it toward a more circular production and consumption’, said Dr Rillo.

Meanwhile, in her opening remark, HE Ngin Lina, Deputy Director General of General Directorate of Policy and Strategy of Ministry of Environment Cambodia, shared some of the potential challenges that the private sector might face in the implementation of upcoming policies, more particularly the Circular Economy Strategy and the Action Plan and Sustainable Consumption and Production Roadmap.

‘Private sector might experience lack of capacity, influential leadership, harmonious partnership, interlinkages among different goals and targets, as well as methods to monitor and evaluate progress’ she elaborated.

Public Sector Intervention

Moderated by Mr Taing Meng Eang, Director of Department of Green Economy of Ministry of Environment of Cambodia, the first session highlighted updates and ways forward from the government sector’s point of view.

Dr Keo Vanthoueun, Deputy Director of Department of Green Economy of Ministry of Environment of Cambodia, emphasised the importance of circular economy implementation in Cambodia, referring to Circular Economy Strategy and Action Plan launched in June 2021. The implementation faces some significant challenges.

‘Circular economy is a new concept in Cambodia, which is not easy to implement, especially considering the absence of relevant policies and guidelines which align with recycling business,’ he explained.

Also read: Dr Keo Vanthoueun’s presentation

Dr Mongtoeun Yim, Deputy Head of Environmental Science Department of Royal University of Phnom Penh, further elaborated such challenges by providing case of single-use plastic bags, which have been excessively used in Cambodia. Plastic bags appear to be “free of charge” leading to irresponsible consumption and disposal.

‘All kinds of waste are mixed and disposed at landfill, without any treatment or recycling. Plastic bags, which often made up of more than one type of polymers, are very difficult and costly to recycle compared to other materials like glass, aluminium, or paper,’ he pointed out.

Also read: Dr Mongtoeun Yim’s presentation

In the discussion of the first session, Dr Vanthoueun shared the government’s concern on societal acceptance while deciding on a policy. Good policies should align with society’s willingness to comply.

Dr Yim added that ban on plastic bags could only be mandated after viable alternatives have been introduced in the market. The alternatives are currently under development, therefore ban should be applied gradually. Educating the society takes time but crucial in the meantime.

From top left, clockwise: Dr Keo Vanthoueun, HE Ngin Lina, Mr Michikazu Kojima, Ms Saruom Ran

Private Sector Intervention

The second session, which was led by Ms. Ellen Putri Edita, Research Associate, ERIA, discussed about the intervention of private sector to reduce plastic waste in the country. Ms Hak Chansy, Administration and Education General Manager of AEON Cambodia explained that the company is producing several types of eco bags and eco products to support plastic reduction efforts. Ms Chansy added that AEON Cambodia is teaming up with Gomi Recycle 110 from Japan to collect and recycle plastic wastes.

Also read: Ms Hak Chansy’s presentation

Meanwhile, Ms Saruom Ran, Business Service Manager of GAEA Waste Management, pointed out some work that has been performed by the company in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, including the establishment of the garage transfer and sorting station as well as organization of annual national campaign and awareness raising program.

Also read: Ms Saruom Ran’s presentation

Mr Chris Parker, the Director of Plastic Program, ClimeCo explained the plastic credit program, which is run by a company named Tontoton currently operating in Cambodia and Viet Nam. The program facilitates companies to provide funding to plastic waste reduction efforts to address their plastic footprints. So far, 14,640 people has been positively impacted by the program.

‘The plastic credit mechanism provides a structure for a verified credited mechanism in a very transparent and accountable way,’ said Mr Parker.

Also read: Mr Chris Parker’s presentation

Another speaker for this session, Mr Jef Moons, Founder and CEO of Knai Bang Chatt described that the sustainability practices of the company are rooted from four matters: understanding, create, matter, and grow. Mr Moons added that Knai Bang Chatt is performing sustainability driven skills and leadership programs that focus on circular economy, arrangement of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainable operational management, green audits and certification programs, as well as environmental stewardship.

Also read: Mr Jef Moons’ presentation

Participants of the seminar at Himawari Hotel, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Mr Michikazu Kojima, Senior Advisor of ERIA, shared his insights on waste management in Cambodia based on his own observations in the field. He stressed that the country does not have sufficient waste collection, waste management infrastructure, and data on waste. Furthermore, Cambodia is highly dependent on informal waste pickers. Mr. Kojima introduced some good practices that can be adopted by the country, including applying regional waste management scheme, design for recycling, extended producer responsibility, and waste collection and monitoring.

Also read: Mr Michikazu Kojima’s presentation

In the discussion, Mr Parker mentioned that the good engagement between the public and private sectors to reduce plastic waste can be built by creating good business environment through empowering consumers and related stakeholders to capture plastic waste before it becomes pollution.  Ms Chansy added that AEON also works with relevant ministries and governments. For instance, the company organized workshops to discuss their activities with relevant partners, including the governments.

Another point was highlighted by Mr Moons related to the waste management in rural areas: ‘Start with yourself. It is all about the education. It is important for public and private sector to look for synergy. It is not about the individual, but how we can best work together to achieve the positive results.’

Mr Kojima emphasized the importance to have dialogue between the government and private sectors.

‘The government should also hear the requests from the industries since the they are one of the important stakeholders to reduce plastic waste,’ he said.

HE Lina closed the event by saying that the information gathered in the event will be beneficial for policymaking as well as future strategy and research development. Going forward, she said, Cambodia will focus on the enhancement of domestic recycling technology to avoid high transportation cost due to export of waste to neighbouring countries; development on policy guidelines and strategy through the plastic roadmap;  and research on alternatives to replace single-use plastic products.