Burning plastics in Cambodia

Over the last couple of months we’ve been documenting the burning of plastics here in Cambodia. You can’t avoid it – it’s everywhere. Nearly every street, every village; there are hundreds of small – and big – piles of garbage being burned every day.

We’ve been talking to people a lot – not one of them was aware it was toxic to them or bad for the environment. And that’s totally understandable – most places here don’t have cellular network. The internet isn’t everywhere in these villages, there is a significant influx of Chinese populations here and in the south which has increased rubbish & pollution without any professional waste services, and the nicest thing to say about the government is that they’re not such a big fan of the environment.

It’s also not something people in developed countries have to think about at all. The rubbish goes into a bin, is quickly taken away and disappears; out of sight, out of mind (mostly into landfill). Here, you need to deal with it each and every day.

Kids help their parents burn. If you’re in the villages, you breathe this in every day. We’ve been handing out face masks and letting people know the effects and to keep kids away but this is a desperate situation – and it’s kind of necessary. Where else is it all going to go? Change takes enormous education, effort and time, it’s even harder in poverty and there really isn’t much else we can do immediately in the moment. We’re trying to develop a community education plan, want to hold information & idea sessions, implement programs in school, and build homes and schools and furniture with the waste. 

We recently held our first plastic brick making workshop with over 60 children. In this way we can collect some of the plastic waste out of homes and streets to significantly reduce burning and use it for other causes. First up, we hope to build a little compost hut. 

This is all slow going though. Thousands of kilograms of plastic waste are created each day. We need to address this upstream and countries here need help from scientific bodies in developed nations to assist them with this. Collectively, we all need to put enormous pressure on major brands to reduce their environment harming practises; this filters downstream here significantly. 

We obviously want to look to the communities for this too. It wasn’t all that long ago that life here was still without plastic. So we document, we listen, we try to think of solutions and we look to inspiring groups around the world creating change. One of the biggest things that has to change as soon as humanly possible is all the food packaging waste from local businesses. If we could switch out the plastic bags, styrofoam containers and plastic containers we would eliminate a huge amount of waste in these villages.

Educating, talking & providing the face masks we can for a teeny, tiny bit of protection
Kids breathe in plastic toxins every day here

Fun fact: Lis’s Khmer skills (or lack thereof) are absolutely useless for casual conversation but she can talk a little about plastics, climate change (her favorite word in Khmer), deforestation and rainy season!

If you would like to use these images on your social media accounts please credit us by tagging us on Instagram (@nowhereandeverywhere_) or linking in our website on other platforms (or your own site). If you are press/media, please contact us prior to using these images. High-res copies are available. Thank you!

Support this writing

We spend a lot of time researching and writing explainers, guides and stories on important environmental topics. We do this without funding, sponsorship or advertising revenue. We would love to continue to expand this work and support experts in their fields to contribute. If you've learned something new here, have joined us on Instagram, or support what we're doing, please consider tipping in a little. Thank you so much.