Cambodian government takes steps to curb plastic bag consumption
It is estimated that around 10 million plastic bags are used in Phnom Penh daily. Researches conducted by the ACRA Foundation estimates that an average urban Cambodian uses more than 2,000 plastic bags every year. This is 10 times higher than average consumption in the European Union and China. Despite the fact that plastic bags are given freely to consumers, there is enough evidence to claim that their cost to Cambodian society and environment is of the order of hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
It is with these data at hand that on the 22nd of January, at a workshop organized by the EU-funded SWITCH-Asia project Reducing Plastic Bag Waste, high representatives from the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and other ministries as well as representative from the private sector and civil society agreed that it is necessary for policy makers to step in and put a limit to the excessive plastic bag consumption that is sadly characterizing the Cambodian way of living. The SWITCH-Asia project is being implemented by the ACRA foundation in partnership with the Phnom Penh Capital Department of Environment and the Royal University of Phnom Penh, across major cities in Cambodia.
At the event's closure, H.E. Sou Sovut, MoE Under Secretary of States stated that "Local authorities shall work together with national ministries to identify the most effective policies", assigning the Environmental Protection Agency the task to establish an ad-hoc inter-ministerial working group.
Welcoming guests, Elodie Maria-Sube, attaché of the Delegation of the European Union to Cambodia, highlighted how plastic bags are considered a pandemic across the world including in the European Union where a recent regulation has just been passed to reduce per capita number of plastic bags down to 40 by 2025. A target that strikes with the 2,000 bags used on average by each Cambodian and points to the excess use of plastic bag in the country.
Following the EU representative intervention, H.E. Ieng Aunny, Deputy Governor of Phnom Penh, linked the fast raise of plastic bags to their unquestionable convenience both in terms of price and variety of use. He highlighted, anyway, that, despite being provided freely, plastic bags do come with a cost to Cambodian people and to the environment. Emissions released when burning plastic bags, food contamination, toxic leaking in landfills, contribution to the obstruction to the draining and sewage system, floods and the very evident littering at tourist sites are all direct effects caused by plastic bags that should not be forgotten. "We are all aware that changing people behaviours is not easy and will take time, but we can not wait any longer, policy makers need to take action" H.E. Aunny said concluding his opening speech.
During the workshop different policy options were examined and discussed by workshop participants. These include a minimum price tax on consumers, taxes on producers and importers, banning certain type of plastic bags, creating free plastic bags zones at touristic sites as well as in schools and other places.
Minimum price policies came out as one of the most feasible options according to different workshop participants, including Ministry and private sector representatives. By putting a price on plastic bags, vendors will help consumers take responsible decisions on the amount of plastic bags that should be provided to them. Similar policies led to significant reduction in plastic bag consumption in other parts of the world, even as high as 93% in Ireland. Is this the direction Cambodia will take?
The inter-ministerial working group will have precisely this task: to capitalize on the researches and findings provided at the workshop and to define the most appropriate policies for the Cambodian context by making sure actions are taken before it will be too late.
Written by: SWITCH-Asia project "Reducing plastic bag waste"
Edited by: Silvia Sartori, SWITCH-Asia Network Facility