Cambodia plans to send 1600 tonnes of plastic rubbish back to its country of origin. Shipping containers packed with plastic rubbish back to the United States
and Canada, with the delivery called a "serious insult". Cambodia will send back 1,600 tonnes of plastic waste found in shipping containers to the US and Canada, an official said Wednesday, as Southeast Asian countries revolt against an onslaught of rubbish shipments. China's decision to ban foreign plastic waste imports last year threw global
recycling into chaos, leaving developed nations struggling to find countries to send their trash.
The rubbish was found Tuesday in scores of shipping containers at the port town of Sihanoukville and will be sent back to its origin, environment ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra told Global News & Media "Cambodia is not a bin for out-of-date technology to be dumped in,"
He said 70 containers full of plastic waste were shipped from the United State while another 13 were sent from Canada. Images of officials inspecting the containers, stuffed with bundled plastic, riled up Cambodian social media users. The trash delivery was a "serious insult", Transparency International Cambodia executive director Preap Kol said in a Facebook post. Huge quantities of rubbish have wound up on Southeast Asian shores as opposition to handling exported trash is growing in the region.
Indonesia announced this month it was sending back dozens of containers full of waste to France and other developed nations while neighbouring Malaysia said in May it was shipping 450 tonnes of imported plastic waste back to its sources.
Around 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced every year, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, with much of it ending up in landfills or polluting the seas in what has become a growing international crisis. Looking down into the water that lies beneath the houses of Sihanouk, Cambodia, it is hard to imagine that the sea is there at all. Instead, there is dense layer upon layer of plastic waste clogging the water, piling up around poles that support the wooden homes, carpeting the beach. New images of from Sihanouk, in the country’s south west, depict in horrifying detail the extent of Cambodia’s growing problem of plastic pollution and how the tide of unbiodegradable rubbish has become part of the fabric of the lives of communities living in poverty.
Photographer Niamh Peren said she had been “gobsmacked” at the levels of plastic pollution that littered the waters and wharfs of Sihanouk, but emphasised that these mountains of waste also told another story: one is often neglected in the current global discussion around plastic, where poorer countries are often accused of being the biggest culprits in terms of generating plastic waste.
“There seems to be no empathy for the fact that for the people living in Sihanouk, there isn’t a water filtration system,” said Peren. “Their tap water is so dirty and undrinkable, that to stay alive they have to buy bottled water and then live among the rubbish it creates because there’s nowhere to put it.”
Over the past 15 to 20 years, Cambodia’s water system has improved faster than most of its regional neighbours, though sanitation efforts have mainly been centred in the capital Phnom Penh. However, according to Water.Org, about four million people in Cambodia still lack access to safe water, leaving them with no alternative but to buy endless bottled water, perpetuating the environmentally destructive cycle.
Peren added: “There’s a total blame game that goes on about who generates rubbish and all this plastic but it’s a human story at the end of the day because this plastic waste that all the people here live amongst is unavoidable- they are not about to feed their babies the black muddy liquid that comes out of the taps, it’s poison.”
With no systemised waste collection service in the area, - almost every plastic bottle ends up in the water below, along with most other rubbish. With hundreds of families living in these houses on the water, the daily rubbish build up is enormous.
Peren described witnessing fishing boats coming into the wharf after long trips and dumping months of rubbish straight into the water and families living in the shanty houses on stilts doing the same with rubbish from their homes, the majority of which was often plastic packaging and bottles.
The plastic bags which also make up the dense blanket of rubbish also speak to Cambodia’s issue with consumption of single use plastic. In urban areas, each person uses an estimated 2,000 plastic bags annually, 10 times more than consumers in China and the EU, and an average of 10m plastic bags are used every day in Phnom Penh alone, according to anti-poverty organization ACRA in 2015.
Nonetheless, in comparison, Cambodia is not as big of a plastic polluter as its Southeast Asian neighbours Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. These Sihanouk images follow a recent video by British diver Rich Horner which went viral after he documented swimming through a blizzard of plastic pollution in the seas off Bali. Peren said the residents of Sihanouk were caught in a harsh cycle that was being repeated all across the poorer communities in Cambodia.
“If you don’t have anyone collecting it, if you don’t have any means to stop it, then this is the reality of what will happen and keep on happening,’ she said. “Every river, every lake just filled with mountains and mountains of plastic as is already the case all over Cambodia.”