He is standing alone aside the road. I recognise him from far, yet I cycle by two times to be sure if this is the appointment I did not signed up for, but I was certain to attend. Welcome by Trash Heroes in Kep, Cambodia.
First, he looks lonely, then a couple of people show up as well. Without saying too much he gives us the attributes. A glove on each hand, a weird kind of big iron chop-sticks, and an even bigger bag – I would fit in entirely. We watch to the zone he determined as the operating area of the day. He picks a starting point a couple of metres further down the road, and without too many words we get in action.
The chop-sticks are not picking up food, but everything that holds food. From Styrofoam containers over plastic cups, spoons, straws, knifes, and unidentifiable objects. Further on, there are bags of all kinds, from iny tiny ones used for sauces, over slightly bigger ones of white breakable material to transparent almost unbreakable material. Some already almost became one if nature and the chop-sticks don’t serve to get them out of the roots and leaves they have grown together with. However, the gloves get really disgusting as well.
Besides plastic, there is glass, too much glass, broken bottles, burned bottles and some still identifiable bottles.
The bag I’m carrying becomes bigger and heavier, until I can no longer carry it and draw it behind me. The gloves got warm and dirty, as do my hands underneath it, I try to refrain sweeping the sweat of my face, as the sun burns and there is almost no refreshing wind. A perfect day for a lazy Sunday, if I wouldn’t have joined the Trash Heroes of Kep.
Big Bag with bags
After almost 2 hours of trash picking, we haven’t moved more than 20 meters and yet our bags are full. We could keep going eventually, but he told us to stop. The task asks for the word infinity. Endless.
Unfortunately, none of the collected trash will be recycled, nor re-used. It will all go to landfills of get burned. There is no sustainable waste processing system here, and hence the only way to obtain real sustainability is to avoid trash. Reduce before re-use and recycle.
Hence, he found a good solution. He created a company that produces bamboo straws, re-usable ones that not end up in landfills and if they would end up in nature, nature would take them back anyways. Because despite the rise of bio-degradable plastics and others, bamboo is the real thing.
Moreover, he did not only take the ‘planet’ part into account, but the people and profit part as well. He works together with local families who produce the bamboo locally and organically, and shares profit with them.
There are more initiatives in Kep to fight the trash pile, such as women collecting and recycling plastic bags to upcycle them, and other companies producing re-usable tools such as spoons and cups in order to reduce the trash pile.
Many more needs to be done, but the first steps are taken, and I hope many people will follow their footprints.
Just to give you an idea, I made a list of the 10 items I picked up most, so you think twice next time when buying, using, or throwing them away.
- Cap of a bottle
- Plastic packaging of straws
- Cigarette butts
- Plastic spoon
- Plastic cup
- Lid of plastic cup
- Little plastic bag in which plastic cups are mostly packed when take-out
- Styrofoam food container