Environment

Trash for Cash Scheme Aims To Clean Up Cambodian Coast

An innovative plastic initiative aims to clear Cambodia’s coastline of 3,000 tonnes of trash by the end of 2022 in a programme that sees community volunteers collect waste and exchange it for money.
Collectors receive 300 riels ($7.5 cents) per kilogram of non-recyclable plastic waste.  Picture: Mae Catibog
Collectors receive 300 riels ($7.5 cents) per kilogram of non-recyclable plastic waste. Picture: Mae Catibog

A “trash for cash” campaign that aims to rid Cambodia’s coastline of 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste launched this week, targeting heavily-polluted stretches of Preah Sihanouk Province.

The campaign, led by Vietnamese-based plastic neutralizing program TONTOTON, has pledged to clean-up targeted beaches by the end of 2022. As part of the programme, community members can register as waste collectors. They will receive cash in exchange for orphan plastic wastes, PPEs, health and other suitable waste products.

Collectors receive 300 riels ($7.5 cents) per kilogram of non-recyclable plastic waste. This amount is lower than value plastics to balance the chain. Recyclables are sent to regular recycling facilities and non-recyclables to TONTOTON's system, said Barak Ekshtein, the company’s founder and CEO.

With operations already in Vietnam, the plastic credit program started its Cambodian collection and clean-up services in three villages, Tomnup Rolork, Oh Vietnam and Phum Thmey in Sihanoukville. Under the name of, "Plastic-Free Coastline", the mass clean-up launched on February 17.

A village with stilted houses can now see water that used to be covered with thick layers of plastic wastes. Picture: UNDP_Cambodia©Manuth Buth
A village with stilted houses can now see water that used to be covered with thick layers of plastic wastes. Picture: UNDP_Cambodia©Manuth Buth

“The results are visible - and fast. In Oh Vietnam, a village with stilted houses, we can now see the water that used to be covered with thick layers of plastic wastes. In our collection center in Tomnup Rolork, from 200kg a day, we now receive up to 10 tonnes daily,” Barak said.

Ekshtein said TONTOTON's revenue comes from private company backers that purchase plastic credits. Through this support, TONTOTON can set up and expand an impactful system that empowers local coastal communities.

Huge quantities of non-value plastic waste that are unable to be recycled and returned to the current commodity market go to co-processing in cement plants as an alternative fuel to coal. This reduces up to 25% of CO2 emissions from this traditionally polluted industry, Ekshtein added.

“Through the process, the ash from the plastic wastes blend to create the final cement product resulting in zero waste,” he said.

The waste produced will be sent to Chip Mong Group, which uses special technology and procedures to process post-consumer plastic waste.

TONTOTON has also been working with Insee Ecocyle in Vietnam since the beginning of its operations. In Cambodia, Chip Mong Ecocycle is its counterpart, noted Ekshtein.

“We have trusted cooperation with them as they're a company with various environmental certifications and third-party audits. They are continuously upgrading their technology to lessen environmental impact,” he added.

Ekshtein said the trash situation in Preah Sihanouk is “very bad for many reasons”. He cited traditional waste management, where waste collectors typically ask for money from people, is currently not working. This means waste remains uncollected and these people live in economically challenged conditions.

“There is less education and awareness about the environment and pollution that even when they live in it daily, it is their last concern compared to the daily survival they have to think of. These areas are near the ocean and even when you do clean-ups, the tides bring back huge quantities of plastic waste, so repeated daily action is needed in order to mitigate the problem,” Ekshtein said.

“When I collect the plastic, I earn extra income,” said Bopha, a resident of Oh Vietnam village, according to TONTOTON.

“When the water rises, it is full of bacteria and disease because it’s so dirty, and when we live and sleep here, it makes us and the kids infected with diseases and sickness,” she said. She added she earns between $5 to $24 daily collecting trash under the scheme.