Waste Management: A Strategic Sector in Cambodia
Solid waste management has been identified as a promising and strategic sector since the rapid economic and urban development, coupled with a growing middle-class has had a significant impact on waste generation, particularly in Cambodia’s larger cities. Phnom Penh, the capital city, generates around 4 million tons of waste annually, and this is expected to increase alongside projected economic growth. According to ADB, the forecast of Cambodia 's economic growth was very promising (before COVID-19 outbreak) and confirmed Cambodia would still be among the fastest growing economies in the world.
The development of the Cambodian economy and its increasing population (1.5% population growth in 2019) are significantly impacting waste generation, especially in the large cities. In 2018, 23.4% of the Cambodian population were living in the cities, by 2050 it is expected to increase to 36%. There are already challenges at each stage of waste management: collection, disposal and recycling, and inefficiencies within the sector have already caused several health and environment problems, including increasing air and water pollution. The waste generated by households, institutions and industry will continue to increase. As a result, the amount of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) disposed at the landfills (the current landfill, Dangkor started to be operative in 2009) near Phnom Penh has increased exponentially over the past two decades. Between 2000 and 2017, the volume of waste generated has increased 40 times over (+3805.5%).
A chance for the private sector
According to the current regulation, the municipalities and provinces are responsible for collecting, transporting and disposing of waste. In the major cities, private companies operate the waste collection and transport services under the supervision of local authorities and the central government. There are at the moment two main operators in the country. Nevertheless, the municipality of Phnom Penh has implemented a new strategy to attract more companies by dividing the city into 3 areas. A tender is currently being organized. The authorities expect to bring better practices and in order to implement the circular economy.
Recycling: the next major trend in the sector
One of the most common challenges in Southeast Asia is the overuse of plastic. As a result, plastic pollution has been heavily highlighted by both local and international media and shows the high consumption of plastic by the Cambodian population. On average a Cambodian household uses 12 plastic bags per day; 41% are burnt and 48% end up in the sea with an average of 10 million plastic bags used in Phnom Penh alone every day, according to ACRA foundation. The urban population uses more than 2,000 bags per capita every year. To tackle this issue, there are promising recycling projects being implemented but they remain limited in terms of capacities. The ban on plastic imports in Thailand and Vietnam in the coming years will increase the needs of plastic waste treatment in Cambodia.
At the moment, only a few organizations and companies are carrying out recycling processes since the pre-segregation at the source is poorly implemented by a large majority of households and corporations. The absence of pre-segregation increases the cost of operation and makes business models unsustainable. Solid municipal waste is mostly composed of organic waste (51%) and plastic waste (21%) which both could be recycled. The need for change is encouraged by the development partners and the authorities. Many companies have already expressed an interest to invest in the country.
The development of the industrial sector, in particular garments, has been spectacular and has had a great impact on waste generation. The collection, transport and disposal of industrial waste in Phnom Penh and Kandal is conducted by the private company Sarom Trading which obtained a license to operate in 2002, granted by the MoE. The other company with a license is Chip Mong Insee with the objective to supply a cement kiln by co-processing industrial waste. The company has successfully established partnerships with major garment brands in order to involve the factories to pre-segregate and store industrial waste accordingly. However, the quantity of industrial waste being treated remains low; therefore, international garment brands have expressed their concerns about inappropriate treatment and disposal of their products. The combination of these factors means that if an alternative company was available, several companies would likely change subcontractors for waste collection and transportation services. The composition of industrial waste shows, Cambodia has great potential to implement different recycling initiatives.
Waste to energy
This recycling process has been lately encouraged by the highest authority of the Royal government of Cambodia, to address the problem of overloaded waste in the kingdom. However, due to recent developments involving waste imports, the approval of any investment will be conditional to their processing domestic waste only. A project involving ADB in cooperation with a Singaporean firm is in the works. The authorities see in this technology an opportunity to supply the national grid in order to meet the electricity demand and avoid a shortage of power during the dry season when the hydropower reduces their production capacity. The government has announced a subsidy program will be implemented to provide guarantees to the private sector upon the financial sustainability of developing a waste to energy plant.