Solid waste

Trash collection in Siem Reap province, Cambodia. Photo taken by David Villa, taken on 12 January 2008. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 DEED.

Solid waste is defined as “used things, materials, or products that remain or are generated from human daily activities and livelihood and do not consist of toxic substances or hazardous waste.”  Urban solid waste is defined as “solid waste remained or generated from business activities or services that do not consist of toxic substances or hazardous waste.”1 In 2019, around 2 million tons of municipal solid waste were “collected and transported” (60% of generated waste) to landfills across the country, with a 15% annual growth rate. However, this figure does not represent the total amount of waste generated in municipalities and cities that do not have proper waste collection.2

According to a United Nations Environment Program study conducted between 2016 and 2018, approximately 3,000 metric tons of solid waste were generated each day in Phnom Penh. Approximately 55.3% of municipal solid waste comes from households, followed by hotels and guesthouses (16.7%), restaurants (13.8%), markets (7.5%), shops (5.4%), and offices (1.4%).3 According to a spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, most dumpsites do not have proper separation of decaying and non-decaying wastes.4

Plastic pollution

Rapid population growth and economic development in Cambodia over the last decade have resulted in an increase in the volume of both solid waste and plastic waste. The exponential rise in plastic waste has been a major concern. In Phnom Penh, it has been determined that plastic waste makes up 213,356 metric tons, or 21%, of the city’s annual waste total of 1,015,980 metric tons. One of the biggest polluters of this is single-use plastic bags, which make up 10% of it.5 In poor urban and rural areas of Cambodia, open-burning waste remains a common practice. Due to a lack of dumpsites and waste collection services, the remaining waste is disposed of on streets or into local waterways, which carry plastic to surface water sources such as rivers, lakes, and the sea.

Landfills in Cambodia

Currently, there are more than 100 landfills throughout the country, most of which are open.6 The new permanent landfill is to be constructed within the next two years to solve the challenges of solid waste disposal in Phnom Penh and Kandal provinces. The landfill is 50 hectares in size and is located on National Road 51 in Ang Snoul district, Kandal province. In conjunction with the permanent landfill, the government is also planning to develop two waste transfer stations. The first one is located in the Boeung Ta Mok area, while the second one is located in the Dangkor transfer station being converted from the pre-existing open landfill. The landfill in Preah Sihanouk Province was the first facility in Cambodia built with modern technical standards. In addition, in 2022, there will be six additional landfills in Kep, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang, and Kamport, which will have modern specifications and advancements. The landfill construction project requires financing from development partners such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank (WB).7

Regulations and governance

Solid Waste Management (SWM) falls under the authority of the Ministry of Environment,8 on account of which SWM refers to the transporting, storage, disposal, and treatment of waste. The ministry is responsible for creating laws, guidelines, and rules for managing and inspecting waste, including hospital waste, industrial waste, and hazardous waste.9 Collecting, transporting, minimizing, recycling, and dumping waste fall under the responsibility of the authorities of each province and city.10

To support solid waste management in Cambodia, there are several main regulations and policies in place, including Sub-Decree No. 36 on Solid Waste Management (1999), Sub-decree on Management of Garbage and Solid Waste of Downtowns (2015), Sub-Decree No.168 on Plastic Bag Management (2017), and Urban Solid Waste Management Policy 2020-2030 (2021).

In 2006, with the assistance of the European Union, the Ministry of Environment and the Cambodia Education and Waste Management Organization (COMPED) collaborated to develop environmental guidelines for solid waste management. These guidelines provide detailed directions and instructions on topics such as landfill preparation, operation, maintenance, and closure; composting methods; medical waste management; environmental education, and so on.11

Implementation is monitored and inspected not only by the Ministry of Environment but also by various ministries with different demarcations of responsibilities, as shown in the table below.

Table: Mandate of Ministries related to waste management governance in Cambodia


Ministry of Environment (MoE)

MoE develops regulations and guidelines related to waste management, monitors the executive at sub-national levels, enforces related laws, and issues disposal permits for industrial waste and hazardous waste under the General Directorate of Environmental Protection at MoE.

National Committee for Municipal Solid Waste Management

The Committee is in charge of developing and monitoring a complete chain of waste-to-energy (WTE) process-related policies, strategies, action plans, and monitoring mechanisms. The committee, chaired by the Minister of Environment, is made up of 15 members from relevant ministries and non-ministerial bodies such as the EDC, EAC, and CDC, and its goal is to convert waste into energy.

Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation (MISTI)

MISTI is involved with the administration of private industrial sector entities, including the management of industrial waste and the promotion of cleaner production processes.

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF)

MAFF is in charge of the registration and waste disposal of agricultural pesticides and fertilizers under the General Directorate of Agriculture and its management in cooperation with the MoE.

Ministry of Interior (MoI)

MoI is engaged with strengthening the capacity of sub-national functions and managing the Environmental Sanitation Service Fund. The General Department of Administration, in cooperation with NCDD, is responsible for supporting local (capital, provincial, and city) administrations to promote decentralization and de-concentration of administration, including waste management.

Ministry of Planning (MoP)

MoP is involved with development planning and statistics related to waste management.

Ministry of Economy and Finance (MoEF)

MoEF is engaged with the approval of the sector’s financial investment related to waste management.

Ministry of Public Work and Transportation (MoPWT)

MoPWT oversees landfill design and construction as well as the transportation of waste to landfills.

 Sources: UNEP12, Pheakdey etc13, Royal Government of Cambodia14

The Royal Government of Cambodia also took some key measures to deal with plastic waste.  In April 2018, the Ministry of Environment (MoE) implemented a charge for the purchase of plastic bags at supermarkets.15 Additionally, the Ministry is drafting a Sub-Decree to ban the import and production of single-use plastic products to reduce plastic pollution in Cambodia.16 In 2019, Cambodia sent back 1,600 tons of plastic waste in 83 shipping containers to their origin sources—the United States and Canada—after finding them at the southwestern port of Sihanoukville.17

Decentralized initiative

Despite some difficulties associated with the centralized mode of solid waste management, Cambodia has also adopted a decentralization model in administrative and operational terms.18 The administrative model is based on long-term concessions to the private sector for waste collection and disposal, while the operational model is that “private operators collect user fees and provide waste collection and disposal services.”19

In March 2015, the government announced it would set up a US$5 million fund to allow sub-national government bodies to take responsibility for waste management in their cities. This initiative was coordinated by the environment, economy, finance, interior ministries, and municipalities. Each sub-national authority was given decision-making power for contracting with private waste-collecting companies.20 Given this initiative, the Sub-Decree on Urban Garbage and Solid Waste Management (2015) aims to strengthen and delegate the responsibilities of sub-national governments in managing garbage and waste in their municipalities. Training and capacity building on the decentralization of waste management were provided in the following year through the collaboration of the National League of Communes/Sangkats (NLC/S) and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS Cambodia).21

3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

Many countries have started to establish the 3Rs strategies to improve solid waste management. The 3Rs strategies referred to (reduce, reuse, and recycle) have different meanings.

  1. Reduce: to consume things with care to curb waste generation.
  2. Reuse: to repeat use of the material that is still in good condition.
  3. Recycle: to recover waste as a resource.22

The Ministry of Environment drafted the national strategy on the 3Rs for waste management in Cambodia in 2008, with support from UNEP. Therefore, the definition of the 3Rs is defined as follows: “The 3Rs initiative is a new concept for Cambodia, aiming at managing waste in accordance with environmental and economic bases.23 In 2016, in order to develop a plastic reduction and recycling habit among Cambodian society and to enhance their knowledge of not throwing, reducing, and recycling waste plastics, the UNESCO Office in Phnom Penh and the Ministry of Environment jointly organized the “Cambodian Anti-Plastic Campaign”.24

In February 2023, Cambodia hosted the 11th Regional 3R and Circular Economy Forum in Asia and the Pacific in Siem Reap Province. Five cities in Cambodia and other five Asian nations had signed the Indore 3R Declaration on “the Goals of Clean Water, Clean Land, and Clean Air.” The signatory cities include Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Kep, Pursat, and Sen Monorom.25

Waste-to-Energy initiatives

The Royal Government of Cambodia has also taken some initiatives to support waste-to-energy projects. In March 2020, the Ministry of Mine and Energy announced a plan for projects converting waste into energy at the Dangkor landfill in Phnom Penh. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the private firm Infrastructure of Asia Singapore provide technical assistance to the project.26 In July 2023, China’s MIZUDA Company proposed a feasibility study for a waste-to-energy plant in Siem Reap Province. To produce approximately 750,000 kWh of electricity, this 12-megawatt plant requires at least 210,000 metric tons of waste each year.27 Additionally, a project to produce electricity from recycled waste has been proposed in the province of Preah Sihanouk.28

From 2012 to 2015, SWITCH-Asia and SNV Cambodia implemented the Waste to Energy (WtE) project for Cambodia’s rice milling sector, a technology to generate electricity from rice husks, with funding from the EU. It targeted nine provinces across Cambodia: Battambang, Pursat, Kompong Speu, Banteay Meanchey, Kompong Thom, Siem Reap, Kandal, Kompong Cham, and Prey Veng. This project aimed to make the industry greener, cleaner, and more competitive.29

Solid waste management and development funding

Managing solid waste and reducing the use of plastic bags are two other top priorities for the Ministry of the Environment.30 The sub-national administration has also made solid waste management a top priority.31 To improve solid waste management at Battambang Municipality, the Ministry of the Environment and the Battambang Provincial Administration recently began a trial of an urban solid waste management system (NSWM-Platform).32

From 2015 to 2022, the Ministry of Environment provided an environmental sanitation service budget package of around 8 billion riels (1.95 million US dollars) to 28 towns and districts to improve solid waste management throughout the country. The Ministry has additionally given some sub-national administrations equipment, including 58 garbage trucks, 118 tuk-tuks, 66 incinerators, 129 water filters, and 68 dustbins.33

In November 2020, the Government of Japan provided a grant of 3 million USD for the project “Combatting Marine Plastic Litter in Cambodia”. The project’s goal is to prevent and reduce plastic waste pollution of the land and ocean by encouraging the adoption of the 4Rs principle (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle). The National Council for Sustainable Development, the UNDP, and the Ministry of the Environment all work together to carry out the project.34

In May 2023, the World Bank approved 60 million dollars to support the project to upgrade Cambodia’s solid waste and plastic management. The project will provide assistance at the national and sub-national levels to build institutional capacity, boost performance in the private sector, and enhance waste fee systems. The Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, and the relevant sub-national administrations will enforce this project.35

Other plastic and solid waste management initiatives

In 2015, a regional five-year project to enhance waste management got under way. This project involves Cambodia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, and Mongolia. The Global Environment Fund has earmarked US$7.5 million for the project. The Ministry of Environment, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and the Municipal Hall of Phnom Penh will work together on this project in Cambodia, and it will initially be implemented at Choeung Ek, the city’s biggest dumpsite.36

The 3RproMar project (2020-2025), an ASEAN-German cooperation project, implemented by GIZ, in coordination with the ASEAN Secretariat, will carry out activities addressing land-based waste and marine litter, particularly in collaboration with the respective national partners in the four implementing countries of Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.37 In April 2023, the Ministry of Environment, the Embassy of Japan, and GIZ implemented the 3RproMar Project and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) organized the 3rd National Forum on Combating Plastic Pollution in Cambodia.38 More than 250 representatives of the government, nonprofit organizations, the private sector, academia, and the arts attended this forum.  The main goals of the event were to highlight inventive awareness-raising initiatives, share Cambodia’s efforts to combat plastic pollution, and introduce new circular businesses.

At the 17th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Indonesia in August 2023, ASEAN Environmental Ministers also highlighted the rapid expansion of marine debris and reaffirmed their commitment to implementing the ASEAN Regional Action Plan on Combating Marine Debris in Asian Member States as part of regional cooperation.39

First published: 26 March 2016

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