September 2, 2022
PHNOM PENH – Namg Kinine used to be a successful retailer and wholesaler of plastic plates, cutlery and cups, one pleased to see his business grow.
But he had a change of heart after seeing plastic rubbish dumped almost everywhere he went when travelling the country – even at ecotourism sites.
Seeing that some people did not respect the environment, Kinine, based in Siem Reap town, started to rethink his business model.
Adhering to the “If you want to change the world, start with yourself” quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, Kinine decided to end his business selling plastic products – which had been in operation since 2015 – and switch to only natural products.
“I had been selling plastic products since 2015. But since January this year, I began focusing on using only natural products as I see too much plastic on the streets,” said the 42-year-old.
The shift from selling plastic to natural products had definitely affected his business, he acknowledged, but he accepted the losses.
“Natural products are more expensive than the plastic version. In general, it is mostly foreigners who embrace the move to using natural products, while just a small number of Cambodians do so as they can be twice or three times the price,” Kinine said.
He is the owner of the KH Ecopack, which sells imported products such as paper and rice straws, environmentally friendly food takeaway packaging, bags and cutlery, mostly made from sugarcane pulp known as bagasse.
He acknowledged that generally such eco products were not 100 per cent natural as a small amount of plastic was mixed in during production to make them stronger but still biodegradable.
Neth Pheaktra, secretary of state and spokesman at the Ministry of Environment, said that Cambodia produces more than four million tonnes of waste per year, and more than 10,000 tonnes a day, according to a report.
In Phnom Penh alone, between 2,700 to 3,000 tonnes of rubbish is produced per day, with 60 to 65 per cent of this organic waste that could be processed into compost or used in other ways.
More than 20 per cent of the waste is plastic.
“We support and encourage more investment into managing and preventing plastic use. The government has issued sub-decrees and regulations on management, particularly the use of plastic bags in supermarkets, in which we have prohibited the import of plastic bags with a thickness of more than 0.03mm by imposing additional taxes.
“We encourage investment in bioplastic production, and in educating people to change their behaviour, in which we apply the 4R principles of ‘reuse, reduce, recycle and reject’,” Pheaktra said.
Sandy Coten, who runs Only One Planet Cambodia, a social enterprise that imports and distributes biodegradable food packaging and reusable home products, believes that there is a market for environmentally friendly products.
She said many people were interested in reducing single-use plastic, with her regularly getting calls and being asked questions.
“The problem is the big difference in price between plastic and eco products. Plastic is toxic to humans and the environment, but it is cheap. It is produced in massive quantities, which drives down the price.”
“When a company starts production of a new product, prices are naturally higher – the cost of equipment and materials, for example, that might not be widely available.
“So any company in Cambodia wanting to produce an eco-product needs to look long term and work to make prices competitive while maintaining quality,” Coten told The Post.
She said she faced complaints about cost all the time, and felt the government could take a very easy first step of making proven and certified eco products VAT exempt.
“In order for this to work, the Ministry of Health or Ministry of Commerce should have a certifying body that examines certifications for granting such exemptions.
“There are many products being sold as ‘biodegradable’ in Cambodia now that are really not, and you could see that clearly through certification.
“I would very happily provide sales information to the tax department if they could give some sort of tax incentive to restaurants and businesses that use eco products and promote places that are eco friendly. I have started doing this,” Coten said.
In response, Kim Sopheak, spokesman at the Ministry of the Economy and Finance, said biodegradable products made from paper were subject to a seven per cent import tariff, while imported bamboo-based and other products were at 15 per cent because they were completed products.
“Non-paper-based products are subject to a tariff of up to 15 per cent and another special tax because this is in line with plastic products on the tariff list. This complies with ASEAN and global standards. Plastic bags also pay 15 per cent for imported products and 10 per cent special tax.
“A proposed reduction in tariffs on biodegradable products is not likely possible as these products also contain micro-plastics. If we were to decrease the tariff on them, it would also entail lowering the tariff for plastic-based products, which are environmentally unfriendly, while the world is banning and reducing the use of plastic,” Sopheak told The Post.
The 22-year-old founder of the Ladies Circles project, Man Erafasyra, is actively working towards a healthier environment, recycling plastic bags into useful items with the participation of women in the community to generate income.
Erafasyra said that while natural products were still not common in the market, she encouraged businesspeople to focus on helping the environment as Ladies Circles did.
“Some small vendors cannot afford to not rely on plastic products, so Ladies Circles was created to clean up the plastic bags and recycle them into useful products,” she told The Post.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Pheaktra said the production of bioplastic products using natural raw materials was encouraging, and called for further investment to provide other options instead of relying on plastic.
“We urge people to change their attitudes, reduce their consumption of plastics and use alternative products made from natural materials.
“The use of single-use products such as straws has already reduced in restaurants, for example, by replacing them with straws made from paper or bamboo,” he said.