Plastic Waste in Cambodia: How TONTOTON is Making a Difference

, Plastic Waste in Cambodia: How TONTOTON is Making a Difference

Across Southeast Asia, growing economies, increased tourism, and surging consumption rates have led to an accumulation of mismanaged plastic waste. Due to the exponential growth of many countries in this area, current waste management systems cannot handle the amassed solid waste, which leads to leakage into the environment. Cambodia is among those struggling with this issue.

In many rural communities across Cambodia, mismanaged plastic waste has reached an emergency state. Refuse leaks into households, litters shorelines, and floats along waterways. Not only is this plastic waste at imminent risk of becoming marine plastic, but it also causes health issues for members of these communities.

Due to a lack of a formal waste management system that can handle the quantity of plastic waste being produced, projects that can fill in the gaps are desperately needed. TONTOTON satisfies that demand in a socially responsible way.

Sihanoukville, March to August 2022

Similar to many areas in Southeast Asia, waste management in Cambodia is often left to informal means. While urban centers enjoy public waste management systems, rural communities rely upon the private sector. Furthermore, both formal and informal sectors are overwhelmed. Current systems simply do not have the capacity to process the amount of solid waste being consumed. This leads to huge quantities of mismanaged waste.

Plastic waste constitutes a large portion of mismanaged waste in Cambodia. One study found that plastic waste comprises 81% of collected debris in the coastal city of Sihanoukville. Cigarette butts, plastic food wrappers, and plastic bags were the most common forms of plastic waste. Unfortunately, these types of plastic cannot be recycled and are often left abandoned, even with established waste collection systems. 

Additionally, a 2010 study estimated that 87% of Cambodia’s total plastic waste is mismanaged. Because of a lack of resources and education surrounding proper waste management, locals often bury, burn, or litter their plastic waste. Although there is an interest to reduce plastic leakage—both by the government and the local populace—the resources simply aren’t there. The private sector must step up to alleviate the growing plastic pollution problem.

Plastic leakage in Sihanoukville

plastic leakage

Although cities across Cambodia struggle with plastic waste management, we must start somewhere. TONTOTON concentrates its Cambodian projects in Sihanoukville where mismanaged plastic waste has reached a state of urgency. Additionally, Sihanoukville is a coastal city where mismanaged plastic waste poses a high risk of becoming marine plastic.

Sihanoukville has recently seen massive growth, and as a coastal city, it attracts thousands of tourists annually. This results in increased consumption surpassing the capacity of current waste management systems. According to the World Bank, unchecked growth resulted in a waste generation increase of 400% between 2016 and 2020. Both the formal and informal sectors desperately need assistance.

Cambodia also harbors a diverse range of marine life, which is seriously endangered by plastic waste leakage. Besides the global ramifications of diminished marine life, many families depend upon these populations for food and income—around 60-80% of local inhabitants participate in fishing pursuits

In many low-income communities, mismanaged plastic waste has reached an emergency state. Plastic waste causes health issues, putting community members in danger. It can also plug water drainage systems, increasing the appearance of water-borne illnesses. 

Because of its leakage into the ocean, the plastic waste management issue in Sihanoukville is a global problem. But, it’s the members of low-income villages in this area who are currently seeing the real and dangerous consequences of mismanaged plastic waste. Therefore, they are also the ones most motivated to solve this issue. TONTOTON offers its resources to empower Sihanoukville community members to take this urgent issue into their own hands.

TONTOTON’s projects in Sihanoukville

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TONTOTON’s motto, “It takes a village to clean a village,” drives our operations. Our projects aid communities drowning in plastic waste by employing its members to collect low-value, post-consumer plastic waste—what we call orphan plastic. We pay our collectors based on the amount of orphan plastic waste that they collect, offering competitive wages and incentivizing the collection of a type of waste that has previously been ignored. 

Within Cambodia, we currently support three remote villages in Sihanoukville: Oh Vietnam, Tomnup Rolork, and Phum Thmey. Since launching our operations in early 2022, we’ve already seen positive results. For example, in Oh Vietnam, thanks to TONTOTON’s projects, water that was previously covered with plastic waste can now be seen again. This is particularly important in this community where homes sit on stilts above the water. Cleaning the plastic waste has provided a cleaner and safer environment for the local populace.

Because we offer competitive wages, more and more people are signing up to be waste pickers. This allows them to provide an additional income to their families while cleaning their communities. One of our employees, Srey Mom, used the income made from collecting orphan plastic for TONTOTON to pay off debts and send her children to school. Our projects allow community members to enjoy an improved quality of life through additional income streams while rescuing plastic waste before it enters our oceans. 

Thanks to funding from our certified plastic credit system, we are analyzing other rural communities in Sihanoukville to grow our reach and help the communities that need it most.

Beyond collecting orphan plastic waste, we work with local schools and community centers to provide resources so that we can spread awareness about the plastic waste problem and minimize mismanaged plastic waste. We also provide receptacles for individual households so that they can separate their own orphan plastic waste for collection. 

How your company can help

, Plastic Waste in Cambodia: How TONTOTON is Making a Difference

We fund our projects through a certified plastic credit system. It works like this: our corporate partners purchase plastic credits equaling the amount of plastic waste that they want to take responsibility for, and we use that funding for our projects. The more support we have, the more we are able to grow our reach and provide much-needed resources to those most affected by plastic pollution.

We further encourage our corporate partners to take environmental responsibility by reducing the amount of plastic waste they and their supply chains produce. TONTOTON’s methods are reactionary; we are working to rescue plastic waste that has already entered the environment and is in danger of becoming marine plastic. In order to fully mitigate the marine plastic problem, stakeholders must do what they can to reduce plastic waste before it’s mismanaged.

We all have our role to play when it comes to environmental stewardship. TONTOTON offers a socially responsible way to rescue orphan plastic before it becomes marine plastic. Do your part by taking responsibility for your plastic waste and ensuring that there’s less orphan plastic that may become marine plastic.