"WE work together to protect the Cambodian environment. Today we will not use plastic,” a resounding declaration against plastic resonates across numerous schools, where the anti-plastic campaign gains momentum, with students joining in a nationwide anthem. 

This collective voice resonates with the ‘Today I will not use plastic’ campaign, initiated by the Ministry of Environment to combat environmental pollution and address climate change.

The Cambodian Climate and Development Report highlights the increasing physical risks of climate change, such as rising temperatures and more frequent natural disasters. 

In the new government mandate, the ministry has prioritised three tasks. Firstly, solid waste management, particularly addressing cleanliness and eliminating plastic waste. Secondly, the ministry aims to mitigate climate change by restoring green forest cover. Thirdly, it seeks to elevate these priorities internationally, contributing to global environmental sustainability.

Environment Minister Eang Sophalleth underscores his ministry’s commitment to reducing plastic use through practical measures. These include introducing separate bins in schools and encouraging students to recycle plastic and waste into compost. These initiatives align with the UN Global Initiative, addressing environmental pollution caused by plastic.

“These measures enhance Cambodia’s contributions on the international stage, tackling the underlying issues of plastic pollution through the reinforcement of efficient waste management practices,” he states.

The ministry asserts that the campaign garners support not only from schools but also enjoys full backing from development partners, factory owners as well as the Cambodian Red Cross.

As per a recent ministry statement, from September 1 to November 13 this year, a total of 5,808 schools nationwide, involving 191,183 teachers and 2,439,539 students, actively participated in the campaign, which continues to extend its reach to all schools across the country.

Local collaboration

In the pursuit of managing natural resources, biodiversity conservation and fostering sustainable and efficient development, the ministry has implemented various measures. This includes enforcing laws for natural resource crimes. 

There is a concerted effort to enhance collaboration with local authorities at all levels to prevent these crimes, working alongside the Anti-Corruption Unit and law enforcement agencies to strengthen enforcement of relevant laws. The ministry is also actively promoting the annual planting of at least 1 million seedlings.

Sreng Chea Heng, the director of the Stung Treng Provincial Department of Environment, says that aligning with the ministry’s priority to contribute to climate change mitigation, his department is actively expanding the implementation of the “Today I will not use plastic” campaign in schools throughout the province. 

He highlights that, beyond creating awareness about storing plastic bags in schools, the department is dedicated to the systematic reduction and reuse of other solid waste, including bottles, cans and various other recyclable items.

Highlighting the waste scenario in Stung Treng province, Heng mentions that the region generates 40 to 50 tonnes of solid and liquid waste daily. Although efforts are underway to collect some plastic waste and certain solids like iron and aluminium, a significant amount of plastic waste in the form of bags still persists.

He points to the significance of enforcing laws concerning all protected areas, highlighting ongoing efforts by specialist forces under the direction of the environmental minister. These efforts include filing four cases for court proceedings. Additionally, his department is in the process of establishing more nurseries to contribute to the restoration of forest cover.

Plastic-free transformation

Chea Heng spotlights the transformative impact of instilling the concept of cherishing a plastic-free, clean environment in schools.

He believes this change in the mindsets of students can extend beyond the educational setting, influencing parents, relatives and the wider community to actively participate in environmental protection endeavours.

“When teachers and the department effectively disseminate information, putting effort into spreading the message within the community, it contributes to promoting participation in climate change reduction,” he says.

Chey Him, chief of Chambok commune in the Phnom Sruoch district of Kampong Speu province, states that this year, his commune has begun addressing environmental issues following the guidelines outlined in the “Today I will not use plastic” campaign.

“Now, led by the department and supported by provincial and district administrations, we are paying greater attention than before, with active involvement from students, particularly those residing in our villages,” he explains.

The commune chief notes that the commission diligently collects and handles waste during local clean-up efforts, which is mainly comprised of empty drinking water bottles left behind by visitors who lack awareness of environmental preservation.

He emphasizes that in addition to maintaining cleanliness at home, commune residents pay special attention to garbage disposal. Notably, the areas, frequently visited by foreign and domestic tourists, thereby demonstrating proper waste management practices worth emulating.

Highlighting the importance of appropriate waste disposal, Him asserts that it contributes to a cleaner environment, reduces pollution and its associated climate change impacts, ultimately promoting community health. He also mentions the commune authorities’ commitment to reinforcing educational messages during council meetings and other local training sessions.

Health and environment synergy

Pov Pin, principal of Hun Sen Tuol Sophy Secondary School, mentions the importance of collective participation in climate change mitigation. He suggests that addressing this significant challenge requires concerted efforts at various levels—from individuals and families to communities and societies. 

He highlights the impact of maintaining a clean, litter-free and plastic-free school environment, not only enhancing the quality of life and learning but also making a valuable contribution to environmental protection.

“I want the community to understand that, for the betterment of our nation’s environment, it’s vital to begin collective efforts, extending beyond schools. A clean environment promotes good health, diminishes adverse impacts on the surroundings, ensures consistent rainfall and maintains high soil quality, facilitating easy crop cultivation,” he asserts.

Kora Heng Yon, executive director of the Community Sanitation and Recycling Organisation, endorses the ministry’s efforts in addressing climate change, particularly in promoting proper solid waste management and eliminating the use of plastic bags in schools.

However, he contends that a one-time school campaign might not suffice; it should be extended to communities for greater efficacy.

He explains that for community pollution to decrease, there should be garbage collectors stationed throughout villages, along with a waste disposal monitor. This monitor, in case of improper dumping, can enforce existing rules, laws and legal instruments.

“Environmental pollution, analogous to sewage, releases greenhouse gases, influencing climate patterns, causing air pollution and combustion,” he states.

Heng Yon also endorses the ministry’s initiative to reforest degraded land for forest cover. He acknowledges that planting seedlings is beneficial for the environment in the long run, although it requires time.

In alignment with Phase 1 of the Pentagonal Strategy and in accordance with national policies, international conventions, and ministry priorities, these initiatives contribute to environmental sustainability, address climate change, promote a green economy and support the goal of achieving a carbon-neutrality with 60 per cent forest cover by 2050.