The Ministry of Environment intends to push for the expansion of a plastic-for-rice exchange project for floating villages, especially those living on the waters of the Tonle Sap Lake.

Ministry secretary of state Neth Pheaktra explained that Cambodia has some of the highest figures for fish consumption per capita in the world, with each person consuming an average of 50 to 100 kg per year.

“If fish eat plastics and people eat fish, they will end up with high levels of microplastics in their bodies. To address this problem, we began this project in 2018,” he said.

“The idea of exchanging floating plastic waste for rice was first implemented in Siem Reap, in collaboration with the Bamboo Vine Fund. We intend to push to launch the project on other communities,” he added.

The project encourages people to store their plastic waste, and collect any that they find in the water. They are then able to exchange it for milled rice and other daily necessities. The project is so far in place among the Chong Kneas, Kampong Khleang, Kampong Phluk, Mechrey, and Boeung Pearang floating communities in Siem Reap province.

“If the people keep their plastic waste they collect, including from their own households and the rubbish they collect from the lake, rather than throwing it into the water, they can exchange it for rice, soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic and so on. This makes economic sense for them and educates them about the long-term effects of plastic waste,” said Pheaktra.

“Educating the people on Tonle Sap is very important because the lake is the Kingdom’s most important source of protein,” he added.

He continued that the plastic-for-rice exchange project also helped to protect the precious biodiversity of the lake. The ministry also urged members of the floating communities to convert some of their homes into guesthouses to generate an alternative income stream.

In an average year, it is estimated that the project results in a reduction of about 100 tonnes of plastic waste entering the lake. The expansion of the project will include many of the tributaries that flow into the lake during the rainy season.