I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve jumped on board Plastic Free July, Cambodia and while I knew it would be a challenge to get plastic cleaned up here, reducing my own use of plastic in this country has been even harder than I imagined.
Honestly, in the two weeks in the lead up to July my success has been minimal.
Now, I’m not saying that as a deterrent to anyone who is thinking about taking part. It’s just a reminder that it is not always easy and it is okay not to be perfect. But every bit of plastic you don’t use is one step forward.
We have always been conscious of the amount of plastic strewn around here and we try not to add to that. We never throw discarded plastic or wrappings on the road, we recycle where we can and we put what we can’t in the rubbish bin. But still, plastic keeps arriving in ridiculous quantities.
One of the biggest problems is clean, safe water. And so we do go through a lot of water bottles. We minimise this by buying a 20 litre bottle of water and refilling our smaller ones from it. When empty we return the 20 litre bottle, which goes back to be refilled. Ideally, we should have re-usable water bottles but sometimes they just don’t hold enough and I have a habit of leaving them places.
Of course, another problem is the language barrier and not being able to say no when items get put in plastic bags. And everything gets put in plastic bags, sometimes even two plastic bags. I have had “I don’t want plastic” translated, so hopefully I can fix that problem.
I was inspired to take on this challenge by Sarah Rhodes, an Australian living in Siem Reap, who is very passionate about the environment and decided to start the initiative here in Temple Town.
“It is a big challenge here,” Sarah says.
“Plastic is relatively new to Cambodia and especially Siem Reap – it’s a novelty. Beyond that many people don’t differentiate plastic from biodegradable matter so it’s everywhere. And it gets burned. Arggghhhh.”
But is it a bigger challenge than in western countries? Sarah is not so sure.
“In western countries we placate ourselves by recycling. We have good waste management systems and therefore don’t see how much plastic we use and marketing companies like Coca Cola convince us we need bottled water and we really don’t.
“It really is a huge problem in western countries. In Cambodia I think there is a chance to improve things before they get as bad as the west.”
There are already 20 organisations officially involved in Plastic Free July in Siem Reap, including restaurants, bars, cafes, a vet clinic and numerous NGOs.
“I hope by the end of July we’ve increased awareness and that this will spur more schools, businesses and individuals to startto make some changes.”
Sarah says reducing what we use is the answer.
So here’s a few things we can all do and I will be implementing as much as I can.
1. Don’t use straws. I bet you never give straws a second thought when you order a drink at the local. But think about it. You use it once and it gets tossed. How many straws are adding to our landfill every day? You just have to remember to say no before your straw arrives. Yeah, I keep forgetting. But I’ll be on top of it by the end of the month.
2. Avoid single-use plastic bags. I know, it means being organised and remembering to take sustainable shopping bags with you and I’m a culprit for forgetting mine. But if we all do this it will make a huge difference.
3. Ditch the bottled water. Okay, this one depends where you are. If you can’t access safe drinking water, then bottled water might be a necessity. But consider buying four-litre, 10-litre or 20-litre bottles so you can refill your personal water bottle.
4. Take-away coffee cups are another big one. It is such a popular thing to buy a coffee and walk off with it. Have you thought about all the waste this creates? If you are a regular, perhaps consider buying your own refill cup and taking it to your favourite coffee shop.
5. Don’t wrap all your lunchbox items in Clingwrap and plastic bags. A friend makes her salads in glass jars and they are always a talking point. But you can get all sorts of small long-lasting plastic containers to package individual items for your lunch instead of wrapping each in disposable plastic.
So, who’s up for it? Who wants to jump on board Plastic Free July and try and reduce the amount of plastic we send to landfill, or worse, into the environment, rivers and oceans, every day?