Zero-Plastic Ambassadors Want to Clean up Chong Kneas

2 min read
Young people pick up trash in Siem Reap’s Chong Kneas commune on November 26, 2022. (Yu Raksmey)
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Ly Sa is a 10th grade student in Siem Reap’s Chong Kneas commune. The 16-year-old was recently trained to be a youth advocate in her community and has been tasked with addressing a major concern in water-dwelling villages: plastic waste.

Sa said she took part in the campaign to change habits in her community and push people to think before throwing their trash into the Tonle Sap.

“Before there was a lot of [trash], really a lot! At first, we were collecting six to seven bags of trash. Now, it has reduced by a lot … it could be 90% clean,” she said.

The teenager is one of about 100 youth advocates trained by the local government and non-profit organization Bamboo Shoot Foundation to spread awareness of plastic waste in communities living on the lake’s waters.

“I can be a good role model for the younger generation. The next generation can do the same as me. When I help, I feel that it makes the environment clean and I feel happy,” she said.

According to residents, the waters in and around the village were teeming with plastic bottles, glasses, bags and boxes.The plastic items are widely used and advocates say people were unaware of the potential for long term damage done to the lake.

Young people draw pictures at a plastic processing center in Siem Reap's Chong Kneas commune on November 25, 2022. (Yu Raksmey)
Young people draw pictures at a plastic processing center in Siem Reap’s Chong Kneas commune on November 25, 2022. (Yu Raksmey)

Oum Sary, Chong Khneas’s commune chief, said he was optimistic that the youth ambassadors can help change mindsets. And if the area was cleaner, he felt it would attract more tourists to the lake.

“Chong Khneas is a floating community, meaning that our living is linked to tourism and fishing. So if we use plastic bags, it affects the fish and moreover, it will affect our health,” Sary said.

A Ministry of Environment report from 2019 revealed that urban Cambodians used around 2,000 plastic items on average a year.

The amount of plastic waste was also expected to increase from 8.3 billion tons in 2015 to 12 billion tons in 2050, if habits and use of plastic did not change.

Sea Sophal, director of Bamboo Shoot Foundation, said the NGO would continue its work in the commune till plastic waste was almost zero. He said it was important to advocate to all residents of the commune, rather than only focus on schools and pagodas.

“We need to have participation from all relevant parties: schools should do it, pagodas should also do it, and the commune council, the youth and, more generally, to include everyone in Chong Kneas,” Sophal said.

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