Deputy Area Leader; Senior Policy Researcher, Sustainable Consumption and Production Area, IGES
Dr. Janya Sang-Arun's current research focuses on sustainable solid waste management in developing Asian countries, particularly on achieving multiple benefits including climate change mitigation, food security, alternative energy, and poverty reduction. She has written several publications on the topics of waste management & climate change; management of organic waste; and integrated waste management.
Vol.6 January 2015
Citizen-based Waste Treatment Initiative:
a Cambodian success story
Battambang is Cambodia’s second largest city, and with its old style French colonial streets, there has been a recent increase in visitors from overseas. However, one of its main tourist attractions, the city’s market, was getting a reputation for its unsanitary conditions and lack of waste management. In this interview, Dr. Janya Sang-Arun explains about a pilot waste-separation project implemented by IGES in Battambang to use organic (raw) waste for composting. We ask her about the initiative so far and what the future looks like for this project.
---Can you explain why Battambang city was chosen for this project?
We put very high priority on the strong commitment of local government when selecting a city for on-the-ground work. This ensures smooth implementation and sustainability of activities even after the project ends. Among many cities, the then-vice governor of Battambang city (who is currently the city governor) expressed a strong interest in the project by asking for special permission to bring more than 10 officials from Battambang city to join our training workshop on ‘Promoting Urban Organic Waste Utilization for Climate Change Mitigation in Cambodia’ which was organized in Battambang city in 2011. The vice governor also took the time to attend the whole programme of our 3-days workshop himself, together with his officials. I was very impressed with how he interacted with the organising team and how he worked with his staff during the workshop. Once the workshop was completed, he requested on-the-ground support to improve waste management in Battambang city. After that, we started to look for any opportunity to secure funding for Battambang and finally we managed secure financial support from the Ministry of Environment of Japan to provide capacity building and pilot project implementation on organic waste separation at source for utilization to mitigate climate change in 2012-2013. So in this way, we can say that project activities in Battambang were developed and implemented based on a bottom-up approach, enabling us to implement the project successfully and ensure that activities continued until now with the strong commitment of local stakeholders including the city, private sector and NGOs.
---How does Battambang city separate and use organic waste? What problems have been encountered?
The approach to separate organic waste was developed by local stakeholders through capacity building workshops, brainstorming, and dialogue, before being notified as a city regulation. This was the first local regulation on organic waste separation in Cambodia. However, this notification is applied to a pilot market area only. Even though the local regulation has been notified, the law has not been fully enforced because residents are not yet familiar with the system. So, in the beginning, the programme of waste separation was carried out based on a voluntary basis. And slowly, enforcement of the regulation is taking place.
Organic waste separation at source is not easy work, so we faced many challenges. For instance, the market vendors complained and asked questions such as why they needed to separate organic waste for composting, why they had to keep the area clean seeing as they already were paying a fee to the market owner, why the composting facility did not pay for organic waste or carry out separation, and why plastic waste was not separated. Many questions were raised by residents but I saw this as a sign of interest, not just negative feedback. To change their mindset, we put more effort on raising awareness. We took them to the dumpsite and composting centre to ensure that they properly understood what impact all the waste was having. Another problem was that, once the waste was separated, the market cleaner (a contracted company) mixed all the waste again and dumped it at the storage area so residents began to question the meaning of separating the waste. These kind of stepwise challenges occurred throughout the course of implementation. It was like an endless problem. Without the strong willingness of the local implementation team, this project could easily have failed.
Fortunately, the city could slowly manage to overcome all the challenges because the programme was created based on a multi-stakeholder participatory approach and we gave the right of decision-making on project design, approach and implementation to local stakeholders. Thus representatives from local stakeholders feel that this is their own project, not an IGES project. IGES is simply a facilitator and technical provider. So they put all their efforts into carrying out the project using all the capacities they had, including financial investment. All that hard work paid off, and the implementation team was so proud to win the First prize of the 1st National Cleanliness Competition in 2014. Just recently, I receive a report from the city that the waste separation at source has improved even further.
---Will this project be transferred to other cities in Cambodia? We would also like to know what some of the challenges and aims will be for the future.Sang-Arun:
I believe so. Since this is the first successful waste separation at source project in Cambodia, officials from many other cities have visited Battambang to learn about project implementation and ask for technical support. At the end of our project, we organised a dissemination workshop for local governments not only in Cambodia, but also inviting representatives from Myanmar and Lao PDR. At this workshop, the city and local stakeholders explained to other cities how the project was carried out. Currently, Siem Reap and Kampot are preparing to separate their waste at source by extracted lessons learnt from Battambang. I have not actually followed up on how many other cities are preparing to do the same. However, I believe that once we can really facilitate a successful model, whether large or small, other cities are happy to learn and adapt it to suit their local circumstances, because waste management is a critical issue for the living environment. Of course, IGES and other organizations may still need to play a role as facilitators on technical issues to the cities (and not direct them) so that the projects can be carried out smoothly on-the-ground. Finally, I would like to also mention that Cambodia’s initiative on the National Cleanliness Competition is a key driving factor in motivating cities to have strong commitments to improve waste management.
--- Thank you very much.