Cambodia is facing pressure from the increasing speed of waste generation and has been advised by the United Nations Development Program that the country should begin a transition to a non-waste, circular economy as soon as possible.
Nick Beresford, Country Director for the UNDP said that transitioning from the current linear economy – based on the consecutive stages of extraction, production, consumption and disposal – to a circular alternative will not only reduce environmental degradation, it will also enhance the efficiency of the economy.
According to UNDP, a circular economy is a system where produced materials, rather than being disposed, are reused and recycled as valuable resources in a closed system. Under this model, waste is treated as new products or energy to be reused and recycled.
According to Beresford, the “Wide adoption of circular economy models can significantly reduce the use of natural resources and energy, as well as the volume of waste, greenhouse gas emission, and air pollution. But the benefits of circular economy go beyond environmental issues.”
“Improving efficiency in material use and energy is also a way of reducing the cost of production and of increasing the competitiveness of businesses. Moreover, circular economy can also generate new economic value, in terms of turning waste into energy.”
Mr. Beresford added that becoming a circular economy would help the country achieve its Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
E. Vuthy, the Deputy Secretary General of the Cambodian National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD), said his institution’s goal is to turn the national economy into a sustainable enterprise based on a closed loop that allows it to achieve the highest degree of efficiency and productivity while also protecting the Kingdom’s natural heritage.
However, the government has yet to issue a timeline for the transition or to determine what sectors should be prioritized in the transition, what type of waste should be targeted, and how the private sector will be incentivize.
Mr. Vuthy said, “We can say that these will be the first steps towards a circular economy,” and that the government will first focus on getting the textile, cement production and food and beverage industries to adopt more environment-friendly practices.
According to the Ministry of Environment, solid waste disposal in municipal landfills has drastically increased in the last 15 years, from 318,000 tons in 2004 to 1.5 million tons last year. The situation is particularly alarming in major cities, such as Phnom Penh, which produces 2,300 tons of waste every day.