‘Most people think of rubbish as dirty. But for me, rubbish is money,” says an enterprising craftsman who is turning recycled waste into raw materials for producing plastics and other items.

Long aware of the growing issues surrounding Cambodia’s daily solid waste production and disposal challenges, Lim Vanny, now in his 50’s, first got into the recycling business back in 2000.

He recalled that at first he started out very small by just picking up aluminium cans only, but early on he saw the benefits of scaling up the operations, so he hired workers and purchased machinery to make the process easier.

He said the main raw materials his business recycles today come from rubbish piles managed by waste collection firm Cintri (Cambodia) Ltd, scrap metal from homeowners and small businesses, and larger scale junk disposal by some manufacturing enterprises like garment factories.

“I am happy that my business activity helps the environment every day, because today there are more and more plastics being used and thrown away. If we do not recycle them, then nobody will,” he said.

“I buy thousands of tonnes of rubbish per day, and I recycle over 10 tonnes of large sacks of it per day. Specifically, about 20 tonnes of plastic waste can be recycled into 10 tonnes of plastic pellets [for making new products] each day,” he said.

Vanny is able to produce 20 tonnes of raw materials per day and his abundant raw materials have attracted the attention of Chinese traders.

Lim Vanny, owner of the Lim Vanny Plastic Recycle Company. SUPPLIED

He said his raw materials are recycled into consumer goods such as chairs, brooms, baskets, plastic bags, rice sacks and much more.

As for the prices of these raw materials, he has three varieties sold at $500 to $1,000 per tonne.

Not only does he help the environment, Vanny also helps provide livelihoods to the people around his neighbourhood, homes and businesses.

He said he has now expanded to three locations and has a total staff of 200 people.

He said most of the 200 staff members are in their 40s and 50s and are former factory workers who are no longer able to work on the assembly

line due to their health and age. On top of that, he said there are always new applicants coming in from the provinces to work with their family members already on staff.

Vanny covers employee accommodations including utilities plus three meals per day in addition to salaries ranging from $120 to $300 depending on the person’s role and seniority. Because he is community-minded, he has also supported his employees with animal husbandry, vegetable gardens and fish farming pools.

“They do not work too hard here. Rather, they just sort the rubbish before putting it in the machines, so 50-year-olds can still do it,” he said.

For those who are strong enough, Vanny assigns them to take care of the animals and water the gardens which take up about 6ha of land, but the work is done on a rotation so that no one is too burdened by it.

Vanny encourages others to venture into this line of work as there are always more piles of rubbish to recycle. But he cautioned that if they wanted to do this job right and pursue this career successfully, they would have to apply themselves wholeheartedly.