Cambodia has a substantial waste problem, particularly municipal solid waste (MSW). MSW combines waste from households, markets, restaurants, shops, hotels, offices, street sweepings, and others. An estimated 4 million tons of MSW were generated in Phnom Penh alone in 2022. Countrywide generation of MSW is expected to increase by 36% by 2050. The rise in municipal waste is due to rapid urbanisation in Cambodia and higher levels of spending power due to a rising middle class and consumer lifestyle in Cambodia’s cities. The composition of waste is also changing, with non-degradable components increasing their share compared to organic.
Facing this growing problem, Cambodia’s waste management infrastructure is somewhat limited. There are few waste collection services, treatment plants, recycling or containment options. There is an absence of management systems in landfill sites. This is particularly concerning in Phnom Penh’s main landfill site, Dangkao, where solid, organic and other types of waste are mixed in together and thrown in the environment without a proper management plan to mitigate deleterious effects on the environment, whether by soil, water or air contamination. These issues require a sustainable waste management solution.
Sustainable waste management aims to keep materials useful for as long as possible and minimise the amount of waste that is disposed of in landfills, a key issue in Cambodia, or through incineration.
For its part, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) is promoting environmentally-friendly policies, including in the area of municipal waste. It has published the Urban Solid Waste Management Policy 2020-2030, as part of its Rectangular Strategy, which aims to strengthen conventional and sustainable waste collection systems.
Also, the Climate Change Strategic Plan has a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal – target 3.3 – to increase the regular collection of urban solid waste by 11%, ensuring 500,000 more people can enjoy improved access to waste management services. Indirectly, the country’s National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD) supports the development of sustainable waste management by attempting to alleviate the strain on the country’s landfills, through the publication of a Roadmap for Sustainable Consumption and Production, which lays out ways to reduce the proliferation of plastic and other non-degradable waste.
On a final level, Cambodian cities – particularly the medium-sized centres outside of Phnom Penh – Battambang, Kep, Kampot – have signed up autonomously to the Sustainable City Strategic Plan. These city administrations have experimented – with quite encouraging results – on alternative solutions to improve sustainable waste management; including delegating authority on waste collection to Sangkat (sub-municipal) leaders, establishing a tracking system for the separation of organic and plastic waste from households, promoting the use of compost among farmers, raising awareness about recycling and improving waste management governance, and piloting initiatives at markets, which are notoriously some of the largest contributors of waste in urban environments.
Impact on business
The negative consequences of not promoting sustainable waste management practices go beyond the impact on businesses and can extend to the economy as a whole in Cambodia. Firstly, environmental pollution resulting from poor waste management can lead to public health issues, increasing healthcare costs and decreasing productivity. The impact of poor waste management on public health can also lead to decreased school attendance, particularly among children, impacting their education and future employment prospects.
Secondly, it can harm the tourism industry, which is a significant contributor to the country’s economy, as visitors may be deterred by the negative environmental impact. This can lead to job losses and a decrease in foreign exchange earnings. A decline in tourism can also hurt the hospitality sector and related industries, impacting the livelihoods of those who depend on these sectors for their income.
Thirdly, it can lead to a loss of valuable resources, which can impact the country’s economic growth potential. Poor waste management practices can prevent the recovery of materials that can be recycled or reused, leading to a loss of resources and increased production costs. This can decrease the competitiveness of businesses in Cambodia, making it more difficult for them to compete with other countries in the region.
Finally, it can hinder the country’s ability to achieve its sustainable development goals and meet its international environmental commitments.
- Develop fiscal and non-fiscal instruments to recognise, encourage and incentivise private sector initiatives to reduce, separate and recycle their waste.
As part of the ongoing efforts to modernise Cambodia’s municipal waste management sector, we respectfully recommend that the Royal Government of Cambodia consider developing measures to recognise, encourage, and incentivise waste reduction, separation, and recycling. These measures could include:
- Considering formally endorsing a flexible, delegated institutional approach to sustainable waste management in cities, encouraging the adoption of tried practices such as delegating authority on waste collection to Sangkat (sub-municipal) leaders, establishing tracking systems for the separation of organic and plastic waste from households, promoting the use of compost among farmers, raising awareness about recycling, improving waste management governance, and piloting initiatives at markets;
- Developing and strengthening operating guidelines for the country’s landfills, particularly for sanitation landfill;
- Encouraging the private sector to implement internal solid waste management practices and policies that would ease collection, develop partnerships with recycling companies, reduce waste, and transition from the use of single-use plastic (plastic bags, excessive use packaging, single-use bottles, crockery, and straws);
- Encouraging the adoption of an EPR Scheme (separate recommendation);
- Providing opportunities for businesses to report their improved waste management practices on a voluntary basis, to gain access to tax incentives and recognition awards;
- Incentivising and promoting recyclable and natural materials for packaging, and increasing market access for recyclable packaging suppliers through tax and Customs duty incentives;
- Promoting and incentivising the establishment of recycling facilities in Cambodia’s major cities.
- Continuing to discourage the use of plastic bags in supermarkets and introducing stricter regulations around the use and irresponsible disposal of plastic. On this note, we welcome the adoption of a Single-Use-Plastic Regulation in Cambodia, to reduce the waste of single-use plastic bags in commercial establishements;
- Mobilising resources to launch an education and awareness campaign to inform residents of the benefits of waste separation and their responsibilities as waste generators.
Promoting more sustainable waste management practices in Cambodia can have several benefits. It can improve public health and reduce the incidence of diseases caused by poor waste management. It can protect the environment by reducing pollution and conserving natural resources. It can also support sustainable economic growth by creating new job opportunities in the waste management and recycling sectors. Moreover, it can enhance the country’s reputation and attractiveness as a tourist destination. Finally, it can contribute to the achievement of the country’s sustainable development goals. Overall, promoting sustainable waste management practices can lead to a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future for Cambodia.
Royal government of Cambodia
Initiative from Eurocham: The issue has been raised by the Green Business Committee within The White Book edition 2024 in the Recommendation No. 35.
Ministry of Environment