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As with many countries in the Asia–Pacific region, Cambodia is embarking on a period of rapid urban development. But with the increasing urban populations comes increasing demand for improved sanitation and waste management.

That demand is placing significant pressure on local governments to find solutions. Additionally, untidy and polluted towns are proving counterproductive in the push to expand the tourism industry, which is a progressively important source of income for towns around the country.

Cambodia has several guidelines and policies on solid waste management. Proper implementation, however, is lacking in most urban areas. Small towns lack waste collection and disposal facilities, and collection rates are around 50 per cent or less. There are no sanitary landfills in the country, and waste is regularly disposed into open dumps, where burning is often a problem. There are also severe problems of illegal dumping and of waste being thrown into rivers and open spaces where it is polluting. There is an immense need for new approaches that are inexpensive and use appropriate technology that can be easily maintained and operated.

At the same time, fortunately, there are opportunities. As in most developing countries in Asia, the main component of the solid waste generated in Cambodia is organic and could be used for producing compost. Although the 3R concept of “reduce, reuse, recycle” is growing in its application across the region, it remains an unfamiliar approach to Cambodia’s waste management system. There are indications, though, that the Government will initiate more 3R activities in its solid waste management policies. Cambodia’s advantage is that the informal sector recycles a large portion of the country’s urban waste. Thus the need for reform in the solid waste management strategies is an opportunity not just to turn municipal waste into a valuable resource but also to increase the income of the informal waste pickers, reduce poverty and contribute towards the mitigation of climate change by reducing methane emissions.

ESCAP IRRC project

Partnering with the Community Sanitation and Recycling Organization (CSARO), the Cambodian Education and Waste Management Organization (COMPED) and Waste Concern, ESCAP is working with the local governments in Kampot and Battambang to develop integrated resource recovery centres (IRRCs). The IRRC approach aims to improve solid waste collection, initiate source separation of waste, save on costs for the city and include the informal waste sector through equitable employment.

In 2011 in both cities, a detailed baseline study was conducted, collecting data on the solid waste management situation, outlining issues of solid waste management and suggesting potential solutions and plans for the coming years. Using the baseline study and the proposed action plans, the following profiles illustrate waste management challenges and the forthcoming IRRC as one solution in both cities.

Battambang, Cambodia
Kampot, Cambodia