Since June, local authorities and civil society organisations (CSO) have mobilised communities in the Chong Kneas area in Tonle Sap Lake to clean up the environment and collect plastic waste from the river.

Rubbish and plastic floats on the water’s surface and sticks to the tops of the trees there in the rainy season and is left scattered all over the land in the dry season.

Over the course of this rainy season, local activists and CSOs led people in the Chong Kneas community in cleaning up the environment and collecting more than 100 tonnes of plastic waste from their area.

About 85 tonnes of rubbish were collected and transported to the landfill, while about 20 tonnes were submerged due to the rapid rising of the Tonle Sap, according to Sea Sophal, director of the Bamboo Shoot Foundation, which is located in the Tonle Sap Lake area.

Sophal regularly mobilises the communities living on the water and along the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake in Siem Reap and encourages them to better care for the environment. He said that the reason why some of the rubbish wasn’t dealt with was a shortage of means for transporting rubbish collected from all over the Chong Kneas area to transport it to the landfill.

“About 20 to 25 tonnes of rubbish that we had put in bags but hadn’t transported yet were submerged. In total, we collected no less than 100 tonnes. The submerged rubbish floated back into the Tonle Sap Lake and some of it is stuck on branches and has reached the shore,” he said.

The Chong Kneas Community consists of approximately 1,000 families located in Chong Kneas commune of Siem Reap town and province. Most of the people in this area are fisherman and some others transport tourists to see the river scenery in both the dry season and the rainy season.

May Mean, who participated in collecting rubbish in the Chong Kneas area, told The Post that in his floating village there were people living on the water whose lifestyle changed according to whether it was rainy or dry season.

He said that about 45 per cent of the community lived on the water with a flexible life according to the season and the river.

Mean said that there was no challenge for rubbish collection because of the community’s participation and the only challenge that existed was a lack of the means of transportation.

“People have joined with us, although not 100 per cent of them, but about 50 per cent through our mobilisation. I will continue to mobilise more people to carry out rubbish collections from the river,” he said.

Chong Kneas commune chief Om Sary said that it was not possible to wait for people to collect and store rubbish properly in the Tonle Sap Lake area. Therefore he created programmes to mobilise the community to participate in cleaning up the environment, especially plastic waste.

Communities in Chong Kneas collect garbage along the Tonle Sap River in June. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Faced with the need for transportation, Sary also led the community to voluntarily contribute some money to rent means of transport to avoid the floodwaters scattering the rubbish again.

“We need voluntary donations for transporting rubbish from the area. We’ve also given some tools to people to separate rubbish. We’ve created committees for disseminating information and cleaning every month to gather people to participate together,” he said.

Despite facing many obstacles in mobilising the community to clean up the environment, Sary said that cleaning up the environment in the Tonle Sap requires the participation of people from all walks of life and the core solution to making the river rubbish-free was by not throwing rubbish into it and not using plastic.

“My community along the Tonle Sap River sees rubbish flowing into the river every day. It’s from our area and sometimes floating from other areas. What we need to do in order not to make this rubbish becoming a bigger issue for us, is to ask as many people as possible to participate because their participation is still limited,” he said.

A lot of plastic waste is dumped into the Tonle Sap River from people living on the Tonle Sap Lake and from people throwing things away without proper storage along the rivers and streams, which then floats into this river, according to Neth Pheaktra, spokesman for the Ministry of Environment.

Therefore, he said it was important to inspire people to stop dumping garbage into the river and not letting the river be polluted by rubbish, especially plastic, was really important.

“We need more education and dissemination of information on the impact of plastic waste. It is very important and must be done regularly and at the same time there must be regular participation too,” he said.

The Bamboo Shoot Foundation is planning to implement the Waste Management and Harvest Plastic programme in Chong Kneas at the end of November to collect garbage from the river again, according to Sophal.

Sophal added that rubbish collection activities would continue to happen, especially after they were mostly cancelled for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I plan to do a big campaign to collect rubbish on the water for our annual event after the water recedes. Our programme is focused on the Chong Kneas area, where people live in floating housing. We want to inspire them to join together by using hundreds of boats to pick up rubbish from the water,” he said.

According to Sophal, the campaign plans to use more than 200 boats with many community members participating.

“These activities started in the community of Chong Kneas about 10 km from Siem Reap town, after Covid-19 pandemic ended and local people have contributed their strength and money to this activity. We hope there will be more participants,” he said.