Reducing Plastic Bag Waste in Major Cities in Cambodia

Rikta Krishnaswamy

Last month, Quicksand began partnering with Fondazione ACRA to work on a SWITCH-Asia EU funded project to reduce plastic bag waste in major Cambodian cities.

To an outsider, this may seem like a modest provocation for a country of 15 million people – but the endemic dependency on plastic bags in everyday lives coupled with unregulated imports of often lower quality goods from neighbouring countries and lack of end-to-end recovery and recycling infrastructure, makes it one of the most ambitious challenges we have been tasked with.

For the next seven months, our team will be working on identifying key focus areas for intervention; and exploring viable and affordable market based alternatives to plastic bags through a series of iterative research, prototyping and testing loops.

We are very excited to be working alongside a diverse array of stakeholders – government officials, policy researchers, academics, waste management contractors, industry associations, sustainability advocates, behaviour change specialists and material technology experts. For a detailed overview of our process, visit this ALT-Q post written by Ayush Chauhan, one of the project leads.

Through the course of the coming months, we will be sharing developments and reflections from our time in the field. For now, here are some updates from our first fortnight in the country:

Being outsiders to the culture and the context, we want to make this project as participatory as possible. 60% of the country’s population is under 30 years of age, and extremely engaged on social media platforms. We have started a ‘Plastic No Good! Cambodia’ field diary on Instagram – to document investigations around plastic bag use in Khmer lives. We are in the process of building a website for live field updates and hope to use this platform to engage (both online and offline) with both local citizens and the global sustainability community to build insights and solutions together.

While our project mandates field research travel to Siem Reap and Sihanoukville as well, Phnom Penh will be our base station. We have set up a small workspace in the bustling Khan Chamkarmorn neighbourhood, near the Olympic Market.

If you happen to be in Cambodia, drop by for some masala chai!

Given the complex nature of the project, we are also toying with the idea of creating an independent prototyping lab in one of the local markets. Together with citizens, decision makers, researchers, artists and designers, we want to explore multiple interventions with target users, that will hopefully continue even after our involvement on the project ends.

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