Last update:
2019-10-28

Stung Meanchey landfill and waste pickers struggle in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Waste management strategies in Phnom Penh challenge the work of waste pickers, who struggle for inclusion and recognition. In municipal attempts of ‘city beautification’, waste pickers are being denied access to waste and their livelihoods are at risk.


Description:

In the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, waste pickers struggle to access waste. The landfill Stung Meanchey, which provided a livelihood for around 1000 families, closed in 2009 because it had reached its capacity, and because the landfill was giving a ‘bad reputation’ to the city and the country. “Poorism” (poor tourism/slum tourism) was growing around the landfill and a ‘city beautification’ effort led by the local government put an end to Stung Meanchey. Another landfill was opened south of Phnom Penh, the Choeung Ek dump, but due to city council concerns that it would end up like the former, waste pickers were denied access. [1][2]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Stung Meanchey landfill and waste pickers struggle in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Country:Cambodia
Location of conflict:Phnom Penh
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Phnom Penh produces 3000 tons of waste per day. Currently, it is all driven to Choeung Ek dumpsite, a landfill that costed 7,000,000 USD to construct.

Project area:40
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:About 3,000 waste pickers and their families
Start of the conflict:20/01/2003
Company names or state enterprises:Kokusai Kogyo Co., Ltd from Japan - Conduction of development study of the waste management in Phnom Penh
Indochina Research Ltd. from Cambodia - Conduction of development study of the waste management in Phnom Penh
Relevant government actors:Cambodian Government
Municipality of Phnom Pemnh
Japanese Government
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Wastepickers, recyclers
Forms of mobilization:Official complaint letters and petitions
Waste pickers entered the new landfill Choeung Ek to continue working, despite their ban of accessing
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Waste overflow
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Increase in violence and crime, Displacement
Potential: Loss of landscape/sense of place, Land dispossession
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Land demarcation
Migration/displacement
Proposal and development of alternatives:For many waste pickers, both in Phnom Penh and in other places in the world, their labor is made worse by public scorn and punishment from the authorities who have failed to create a functioning recycling system, Sonia Dias explains. Dias hopes that the value of informal workers like waste pickers will be formally recognized. “You need to have a framework that gives people access to waste,” says Dias. “So that they are not penalised for being outside the system.” [2]

According to researcher Cindy Marie Bryson, the edjais and others in the informal sector are being disregarded by the Cambodian government. The failure to understand the waste pickers’ lives has often resulted in the development of solutions to deal with the city’s waste that do not build on the value systems created by the local communities. Local processes have been considered demeaning, backward, exploitative and inefficient. As City Hall contemplates the future of solid waste management in Phnom Penh, “officials need to also incorporate and involve waste pickers and the dynamic informal recycling sector within the city’s formal solid waste management processes”, Bryson argues. The edjais should be recognised for their agency, skilfulness, creativity, and their contributions to the environment. [1][5]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:No formal recognition of waste pickers.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Cindy Marie Duphony Bryson (2014): "A Valuable Life. Seeing transformative practive among Phnom Penh's waste pickers", Volume 1

[1] Cindy Marie Duphony Bryson (2014): "A Valuable Life. Seeing transformative practive among Phnom Penh's waste pickers", Volume 1 & 2
[click to view]

The Guardian. Author Poppy McPherson. " 'Hell on earth': the great urban scandal of family life lived on a rubbish dump". 11 Oct 2016
[click to view]

[2] The Guardian. Author Poppy McPherson. " 'Hell on earth': the great urban scandal of family life lived on a rubbish dump". 11 Oct 2016
[click to view]

[6] Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, Law report, Cambodia
[click to view]

[7] The Phnom Penh Post
[click to view]

[8] "Veins of Phnom Penh: Urban waste pickers as the best infrastructure for recycling waste", Author: Kathrin Eitel
[click to view]

[8] "Veins of Phnom Penh: Urban waste pickers as the best infrastructure for recycling waste", Author: Kathrin Eitel
[click to view]

[18] New Naratif. "Plastic Kingdom: On Cambodia’s Recycling Trail" Author: Miguel Jeronimo. 10.25.2019
[click to view]

[19] Khmer Times. "EDJAIS: The invisible soldiers of Phnom Penh" Author: Som Kanika. 01.10.2020
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice, Intern team 2020 (NC)
Last update28/10/2019
Comments
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