Lacking adequate structures to deal with the country’s waste, Cambodia leaves its growing problem to edjais, a local term for the informal waste pickers that wander the streets with hand carts looking for something valuable to collect off the street and sell. It’s estimated that 3,000 tonnes of waste (600 of them plastic) are produced per day just in the capital Phnom Penh, so there’s plenty to be selected, hand-picked and sold for further processing downstream in the recycling trail.
Unfortunately, not all trash is created equal. Plastic bags, for instance, aren’t worth the trouble for edjais due to the low price they can get in the market.
The problem can be measured and counted: some 10 million bags are used daily in Phnom Penh; 48% of plastics are burned or thrown into rivers or the ocean; and 80% of coastal debris is plastic waste.
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