It’s been a whirlwind first month here in Cambodia. Our first couple of weeks were packed full of field trips to many places around Siem Reap province. Some of these included Phnom Kulen National Park, Prek Toal floating village, Angkor Wat, and a trip to the Anlong Pi landfill. Anlong Pi landfill is run by the company GAEA, who for the past few years have been working hard to improve conditions of the landfill by working to implement a number of sanitary projects including a recycling center, composting program, and a water treatment facility.
Students stand in front of a waste pile at Anlong Pi. All photos courtesy of Anna Chahuneau
We were lucky enough to be shown around by one of the heads of GAEA. We learned about many of the struggles they face, including: lack of governmental cooperation and support, minimal funding, and a large community of “waste-pickers” who rely on scavenging waste from the landfill as their primary source of income. They collect mostly plastic, scrap metal, and food waste that they use to create food for pigs. Each of these items they are able to sell to recycling centers and other local villagers, earning up to $5 a day at some points, a relatively large salary for rural Cambodian villagers.
Trash floats in a puddle of leachate
One of GAEA’s biggest issues right now regards what to do about the waste-pickers. Due to health and safety concerns, GAEA has attempted to close the gates of the landfill and keep the waste-pickers out. Many protested, however, arguing that GAEA was in effect preventing them from earning a living. The issue is very complicated and full of both practical and ethical disputes. Until GAEA and the government are able to work together to reach a conclusion, the waste-pickers will likely be able to continue working in the landfill.
A tractor adds new garbage to a partially filled trash cell