Say No to Plastic! Oxfam Team Cleans The Streets

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Last Saturday [15 Sep 2018] was World Cleanup Day – an annual, global civic initiative that has been happening for the last 10 years. But this was the first year Cambodia, through the Ministry of Environment, officially joined the other 155 countries, and Oxfam in Cambodia’s staff, families and friends were part of it.

Thirty of us, including Oxfam staff, families, friends and even children and toddlers, joined hands to help clean up the streets and park around Night Market and Old Market in Phnom Penh.

But, the few hours we spend that morning filling up eco-bags with litter, especially plastic, was not just about cleaning up the streets, it was most importantly about raising awareness of the local residents and ourselves about the plastic epidemic and trash disposal issues.

At first, our team’s impression was that the Night Market area was actually pretty clean!

But it was only when we started to really look at the streets with the purpose of picking up litter that we all opened our eyes to “trash blindness.”

While waste collection employees do the important and grueling task of picking up the bulk of the waste in often very challenging and unhygienic conditions, there are still very small pieces of trash that make their ways on the street due to improper waste disposal.

In about an hour, we had filled up 15 bags with a variety of waste and separated plastic bottles from the rest of the trash. Most of the collected trash included plastic straws, plastic bags, bottle caps, cans’ pull-rings, cigarette butts, candy and chopsticks wrappers, small torn pieces from snacks packages and phone scratch cards.

“All of these small pieces of plastic are easy to ignore, but during the rainy season all that trash will inevitably end in the water streams, harming waterways, causing floods and even being eaten by fish we eat,” said Liza Ordonez-Cooke, a coordinator of Oxfam in Cambodia’s Green Team, a staff-led volunteer team that aims to bring eco-solutions to staff and country office.

An eight-year old volunteer in our team asked the obvious question: why do people not put them in the trash bins?

While cleaning up our environment and be conscious about properly disposing of our waste should be an everyday occurrence, our collective and visible action of cleaning up triggered reactions from local residents. We received water bottles and thumbs up as a gesture of support, we overheard people arguing between themselves about bad littering practices, we were approached by people throwing their empty drink cups in our bags and people asking why we were doing this.

There are a few things that we all can do to help with proper waste disposal and alleviate plastic pollution:

  • Keep a reusable water bottle (or two!) with you so you can avoid plastic bottles and refuse plastic cups for your coffee or tea!
  • Say no to straws, you very rarely need one
  • Keep reusable grocery bags with you so you can decline plastic bags
  • Keep paper brown bags with you so you can decline plastic wrappings
  • Properly throw away wrappings and packages
  • Sign a petition! There is one going around asking restaurants and hotels to reduce their plastic use:
  • Join a volunteer cleanup group or create your own to clean up dirty locations thanks to this app:
  • Tell your family and friends about proper waste disposal!

A healthier, more sustainable planet starts with us!

Waste collection has improved over the years but there are still challenges. Photo: Natacha Kim/Oxfam

Oxfam colleagues, friends and family after collecting trash. Photo: Banung Ou