The world is quickly becoming buried in solid waste. Plastic is clogging our water ways. Landfills are filling-up faster than ever before in countries across the world. We are even finding plastic trapped in the ice sheets of Antarctica. The worldwide total volume of plastic has reached 8.3 billion metric tons, the equivalent of more than 800,000 Eiffel Towers. Of this enormous amount, 6.3 billion metric tons have been disposed as waste. Around 90 percent of the world’s plastic waste ends up in the oceans. Most of it arrives by way of just 10 major rivers, one of which is the Mekong.

Back home in Cambodia, around 10 million plastic bags are used in Phnom Penh every day. Urban Cambodians use more than 2,000 plastic bags every year. Even more worrying, is the solid waste disposal in municipal landfills have drastically increased from 318,000 tons per annum in 2004 to 1.5 million tons per annum in 2017, according to the Ministry of Environment (MoE). This situation is particularly alarming in major cities, such as Phnom Penh, which produces 2,300 tons of waste on a daily basis.

If these trends continue, the rates of solid waste disposal in municipal landfills is expected to double by 2029, reaching 2.1 million tons. Already, in Siem Reap, the landfill is expected to reach its maximum capacity soon.  

As a solution, the UNDP has introduced a project to mainstream the concept of a “circular economy” to reduce waste and promote sustainable management of waste for Cambodia.

Project objectives
The project aims to create a circular economy in Cambodia, which focuses on waste Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling to effectively fight waste problems and plastic pollution. In a circular economy, waste is treated as valuable materials that should be reused or recycled, not only to reduce the volume of waste but also to generate new economic opportunities.

In order to build a circular economy, the project focus on the three sets of interventions:

  • Testing and implementing circular economy business models with municipalities and industries to identify viable business models for a circular economy;
  • Awareness raising & environmental education: it is also critical to raise awareness about the plastic problem through environmental education and information campaigns directed at people, especially youth, and the private sector; and
  • Creation of an enabling policy framework for circular economy: creation of a circular economy requires polices that actively encourage a 3R approach to plastic waste.
Promotion of circular economy is envisaged to bring outcomes that include a reduced volume of waste and expenditure of energy, improved economic competitiveness of the industry sector, reduced GHG emissions, and a cleaner local environment.   

Circular economy in the news

Press release | #CircularEconomy: Innovating Solid Waste Management in Cambodia

Recently, the UNDP gathered experts on solid waste management, private sector companies, young people, advocates and representatives from Royal Government of Cambodia to form a coalition that is working to address this growing issue. Read more here.

Blog | Our plastic problem is out of control. Here’s how we can fight it

We live in a world of plastic. It is an amazingly convenient material - cheap, light, flexible, and durable. Used for bags, bottles and containers, it is in our homes, schools and workplaces. But that rampant use has come at a heavy price. Read the full blog in the World Economic Forum's website.


Key documents

  • Do you want to know more about the Circular Economy project? Please download the project brief PDF here.
  • The Circular Economy model is an innovative solution for solid waste challenges in Cambodia and beyond. Checkout our presentation here.
  • The fight against plastic pollution is a global one, but there's much to be done in Cambodia. For more info on the situation and some emerging initiatives, checkout our presentation here.
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