Waste is proving to be a headache

Sok Chan

Phnom Penh’s only land fill site is on the brink of filling up, creating a waste crisis.

Phnom Penh’s only land fill site is on the brink of filling up, creating a waste crisis.

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Recycling has been ruled out by many because of the set-up costs and lack of profits and the absence of policy incentives.

Now an environmental impact assessment site is under way in neighbouring Kandal province for a new landfill site.

Every day, the capital alone generates 3,000 tonnes of rubbish, 600 tonnes of which is plastic. As a whole, Cambodia produces more than 10,000 tonnes of waste daily, the equivalent of 3.6 million tonnes a year.

All categories of trash

The past two decades of strong economic growth, rapid urbanisation with its consequent heightened population and services and industrial development have increased waste generation exponentially. This includes all categories of trash – municipal solid, industrial, hazardous, construction and demolition rubbish.

Waste management in the Kingdom is often characterised by a lack of proper rubbish collection, treatment facilities, technical and trained staff and effective management policies. The increasing generation of waste poses serious health and environmental problems that are often highlighted in local media and social networks.

Vermin threat

Piles of rubbish generate breeding grounds for vermin and cockroaches and the consequent risk of disease.

Currently, Phnom Penh’s waste is sent to Dangkor landfill on the outskirts of the city. However, this will be completely full in less than two years, while the municipality is considering the new site in neighbouring Kandal province.

Speaking at the Waste Summit Cambodia 2019 at The Factory Phnom Penh late last month, Nuon Samnavuth, director of Phnom Penh City Hall’s waste management and environment division, says that there is no investment made in waste recycling plants in the country.

Over the last 10 years, rapid change has swept through Phnom Penh on the back of improved economic activity and population growth and the services they require.

Data shows rising population

Data from the preliminary 2019 census shows that the number of people in the capital city grew to 2.13 million as of March 20 compared with 1.5 million people in 2008.

Based on this, the National Institute of Statistics notes that the city’s population grew at a compound annual growth rate of 3.2 percent between 2008 and 2019.

Solid waste disposal in municipal landfills drastically increased from 990,200 tonnes per annum in 2013 to 1.73 million tonnes per annum in 2018.

At present, however, waste is collected and disposed of at open landfills without any formal large-scale sorting, recycling or attempts to turn it into energy.

Recycling very expensive

Solid waste has increased around 12 percent year-on-year.

Investing in a waste recycling plant is very expensive, particularly in Cambodia, says Hoy Peou, Director at HD&L Co Ltd (Cambodia).

Hoy started a company to recycle waste in 2005.

He adds that with the volume of 3,000 tonnes of solid waste daily, it will cost around $50 million to set up new waste recycling plants.

However, it will take about 30 years or more for a return on investment (ROI), too long a term for any potential takers.

If the return on investment is longer than 10 years, there will be no investment injected in waste recycling plants in Cambodia. In addition, there is no policy or support for any form of incentive” Hoy argues.

He adds that Electricity Du Cambodge (EDC), a state-owned electricity enterprise, has no policy on tariffs regarding waste, no tipping fees, no carbon sales in the Cambodian market as well as no incentive policy support.

“ROI is about 30 years. However, the treatment equipment can be used for only 10 years,” Hoy says.

“Therefore, no investors will come to Cambodia.

“Now, we are waiting for the government to develop an incentive policy support scheme.”

Hoy says most people are generally unaware of the problem.

They toss it aside, expecting someone else ro deal with the problem

Lack of incentive policy

Cambodia has the Law on Environment Protection and National Resources Conservation and sub-decrees on solid waste management, electric waste and electronic equipment management, municipal waste management, and plastic bags management.

However, it lacks an incentive policy support on any waste recycling activities.

“The lack of regulation and incentive policy support on the recycled waste and recycling activities has deterred investment on waste recycling in Cambodia,” says Ngeth Bol, deputy director of the solid waste manag0ement department at the Ministry of Environment.

Ngeth adds that nowadays solid waste management in Cambodia is confronted with many problems, which is a cause for worry for the government because of its effect on public health and the quality of the environment.

‘Lack of regulation’

“The national budget to support waste management is limited, while the waste collection service is poorly run and not regular. Also, recycling activities are limited and there is a lack of regulations on waste recycling promotion and landfilling,” says Ngeth.

The director of Phnom Penh Capital Hall’s waste management and environment division says, however, that the government is working on a waste investment policy, with particular attention being paid to waste-to-energy options.

“The government supports all investment in waste management,” says Nuoun.

“We will conduct a detailed study on a subsidy package including collection, transport and final disposal treatment to support the private sector.”

Cintri (Cambodia) is a private waste management company that was established in August 2002.

‘Citizens should play a part’

It is responsible for cleaning, collecting and the transportation of waste from the city for disposal.

The company currently employs 2,359 labourers and uses 438 trucks to collect waste and clean the city daily.

Cintri’s’s operator, Heab Sokun, says that the company is working hard to provide a better service to help clean the environment and to align its efforts with the development of Phnom Penh.

However, the company also encourages citizens to play their part in the battle.

Heab adds that there are some challenges regarding waste collection and city cleaning. He says that those challenges include dumping waste after collection times, using inappropriate packaging, not filtering water, bad parking, unlit roads and the failure of some to pay for the service.

Call for people to pack waste

“We have ideas on processing the waste, but the investment is not profitable. However, we call on people to pack waste so it is easy to transport,” Heab adds.

The authorities are pleading with people not to generate waste unnecessarily.

“We have to seek ways to recycle waste to generate money such as using it as biomass, or waste-to-energy. We need safe landfills,” says Nuon.

He adds that the municipality is now also considering collecting a waste fee directly from citizens and using it to pay Cintri, the company in charge of collecting trash in Phnom Penh.

“To make the waste collection more sustainable and clean, we are thinking of collecting payments, which means we will play a role as waste fee collector,” Nuon says.

“The government will pay Cintri for their services, but they must be on time, consistent and hygienic.”

As to whether people will be happy to pay an ectra tax to cover the cost has yet to be seen but generally soeaking taxes are disliked.

Action plans agreed

In a meeting with the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Environment on solid waste management, officials agreed on several action plans, including drafting a strategy and a national policy to tackle waste management and doing more to enforce existing regulation.

The ministries also agreed to organise a campaign to raise public awareness about the issue.

Trash to generate fuel

Waste-to-Energy (WTE) has been widely used in developed countries including in Europe, Singapore and Japan.

In Sweden, for example, 35 per cent of waste is used to generate heat and electricity for the country.

In Asia, some countries such as Sri Lanka use cement kilns to convert waste into energy, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Cambodia.

The UNDP says that with WTE systems, rubbish disposed of at landfills can be reduced, greenhouse gas emissions can be cut and the need for other less clean sources of energy such as coal and firewood can be minimised.

However, it is agreed that power plants using waste require high-quality technology and investment in cleaning the fumes to ensure that people living around the plant are not affected by harmful air pollutants thst nan lead to fatal deaths including cancer.


So it is important to have the right technology with skilled personnel in place to eliminate harmful substances in the incineration process, says Nick Beresford, Resident Representative at UNDP‘s Cambodia headquarters.

“Along with rapid economic growth and a growing population, there has been an increase in industrial and municipal waste in Cambodia, the inevitasble but unwelcome companion to the growing gross domestic product of a developing world that has been witnessed in poisoned rivers and lakes in China.

“If the WTE model is applied for waste management in Cambodia, instead of being disposed of, waste would be treated as a new resource adding new economic value to the economy,” Beresford says.

The investment and the technology for waste-to-energy is a concern for Cambodia because it is expensive.

However, this technology is available abroad, says Victor Jona, spokesperson of the Ministry of Mine and Energy.

Coal power cheaper

He adds that the electricity generated from waste would cost around 15 cents per kilowatt per hour (kWh), compared with a coal power plant which costs around 8.5 to 9 cents per kWh.

“I think it is a good idea to process waste to energy because it will be boosting the ability of the EDC to supply more power to the national grid and also contributes to cleaning the city,” Jona adds.

“Technically, for the waste we have now, we can have 50 megawatts but if the amount of the waste is more than this, we can add another 30 MW.

“Some waste is electronic, so we cannot burn it because it is hazardousto life forms, including humans.

“For every 3,000 tonnes of waste, 50 percent can be used to create electricity,” Jona says.

In this way, two birds can be killed with two stones.

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