Excess Baggage : Reducing Plastic Bag Waste in Cambodia

Project Brief

Plastic Bags are Deep Rooted in the Everyday Life of Cambodia.

Plastic bags offer a convenience that manifests itself in a number of unique ways and no longer represent just a simple packaging solution but a sign of rapidly transitioning society – culturally and economically. The bags also represent an evolving problem. The non-biodegradability of plastics and increasing evidence of adverse impacts on the environment and human health, have led to bans and taxes in countries across the globe. Choked water and sewage systems, littered public spaces and countryside, and under pressure waste management infrastructure are just some impacts of bag use in Cambodia.

The Challenge - Fighting A Super Hero

How do we control the use of a product that's use is unparalleled in terms of cost and scale, integrates multiple material qualities that are highly desirable, has a highly convenient and flexible design, is so ingrained - for businesses and consumers, represents great customer service, and for which no viable alternative has yet been adopted globally?

Since the 1970s when they were first introduced, plastic bags have gone on to become an icon of the modern age. They have facilitated consumption and addressed many other needs of human life in a commendable way, and yet their overuse has created an impact on the environment that needs to be controlled.

Reducing Plastic Bag Waste - Policies, Behaviors, and Alternatives

The experiences of countries tackling the plastic bag problem demonstrate that any solution identified to reduce the use of plastic bags must be designed with a profound understanding of local behaviors, attitudes, desires, needs and motivations. It is in this context that Fondazione ACRA envisioned an overarching approach to reducing the negative impact of plastic bag waste in Cambodia. The project is structured with three major streams of focus.

POLICY FORMULATION Developing guidelines for future policy on plastic bag usage in Cambodia.

BEHAVIOR CHANGE Developing and implementing behavioral change interventions focused on plastic bag usage in Cambodia.

DESIGN OF ALTERNATIVES Developing product-service alternatives to plastic bags in Cambodia.

The project is funded by Switch Asia EU and supported by local partners - The Ministry of Environment, Cambodia (MoE), National Committee for Clean City Assessment, Cambodia (NCCA) and the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia (RUPP).

Multidimensional Considerations for Design

The design of alternatives stream of the project aims to prioritize the most environmentally damaging and wasteful occasions of plastic bag use, and develop sustainable product-service alternatives. In approaching these alternatives, Quicksand has adopted a human centric design lens to understand plastic bag use from a number of user and system considerations. It's findings have informed not only it's stream but aspects of behavior change and policy that the larger project is focused on.

The key areas of inquiry and intervention for alternatives include -

  • Mapping Cambodia's Plastic Bag Ecosystem (Supply, Use, Disposal) and Users
  • Identifying Attitudes and Behaviors Relevant To Plastic Bag Usage
  • Mapping The Lifecycle and Environmental Impact of Plastic Bag Use
  • Identifying Levers of Potential Systemic & Behavioral Change
  • Identifying Potential Opportunities & Challenges - Materials, Products and Services

The guiding themes of intervention recognized for alternatives include -

  • Reduction in the number of bags used per occasion
  • Reduction in the amount of plastic used per bag
  • Reduction of the frequency of new bags being used

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