A former broom salesman named Has Kea, residing in Chaom Chao III commune’s Prey Tea 2 village in the capital’s Por Sen Chey district, conceived an innovative idea. He established a small enterprise that transforms empty plastic bottles into brooms, offering employment to 28 women within his community.

“In 2010, I briefly worked as a broom seller. At that time, I became aware of the substantial demand for brooms, with most being imported from neighbouring countries. However, I observed, those brooms had a limited lifespan. My inspiration arose from watching YouTube, where I saw people repurposing empty plastic bottles. This piqued my interest in establishing this business,” he says.

Kea says the issue of excessive plastic bottle consumption and careless disposal contributes to environmental pollution. In March of this year, he established his enterprise on a small parcel of land spanning 9m in width and 45m in length. The craft involves processing empty plastic bottles, particularly those with a volume of 1.5l and 2l, to extract thin, elongated fibres.

“My business holds potential to benefit society. It encourages people to collect bottles, contributing to the removal of discarded plastic bottles from the area. People who previously disposed of bottles are now inclined to retain them, turning them into a source of income through sales. This serves as a reminder that plastic waste possesses inherent value,” he says.

Eco-friendly craftsmanship

Kea describes the process of crafting brooms from empty plastic bottles, saying the first step involves cleaning and drying the bottles. Then a sharp blade is used to shred the bottles into thin fibres measuring approximately 7 to 8m in length, which are further cut down and positioned into broom shape. The broomsticks are then handmade from bamboo.

The business provides employment for 15 women aged between 40 and 50, along with an additional 13 working from home. The flexibility of the arrangement allows them to work at their own pace or during free time, with compensation tied to their finished products. The enterprise consumes approximately 8,000 empty plastic bottles daily, equivalent to around 100kg, sourced from scrap depots.

“Although the scale of the work is not extensive, it plays a crucial role in improving my workers’ livelihoods. The members of my workforce rent accommodations, and the significant benefit derived from this employment lies in the acquisition of useful skills,” says Kea.

He notes that on any given day, the team can produce approximately 500 brooms, with each unit retailing for 10,000 riel ($2.50). Their primary customer base extends across Phnom Penh and the provinces of Svay Rieng, Siem Reap, Takeo, Ratanakkiri, Banteay Meanchey and Battambang.

“Some may underestimate our efforts, but we engage in the use of plastic waste to address environmental concerns. Alongside my husband and our three children, we relocated from Svay Por village in Kampong Cham province’s Srei Santhor district to Phnom Penh nearly two years ago. Currently, we reside in rented accommodation within Por Sen Chey district’s Chaom Chao III commune,” shares Loh Rem, one of the 28 workers engaged in the broom processing business.

Waste reduction practices

Rem says that she transitioned from her previous job as a garment factory worker in the local area to working as a broom maker in March of this year. 

“I find joy in my work as it contributes to environmental well-being. The role involves removing discarded plastic waste from waterways and mitigating the issue of air pollution caused by burning,” she says.

Keat Raingsey, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Department of Environment, says that both the Ministry of Environment and his department encourage those involved in recycling plastic waste, and this broom making handicraft directly contributes to the ministry’s goal of reducing plastic waste.

“We insist on each small enterprise obtaining a proper permit, a demonstration of our commitment to environmental standards. While certain handicraft practices aim to reduce waste, they may also inadvertently emit substances in the process that impact the environment,” he says.

Kea notes that bottle caps and unprocessed plastic scraps are not sold to scrap depots due to limited market demand and depot criteria.