Tips on how to combat the worst 4 plastics

It’s funny, a few people have said to me that they think it will be easier to try and focus on one plastic of the four, the thing is the four biggest are just the tip of the iceberg that we can see. I’ve been thinking a lot this week about ‘hidden’ plastic. For example, what restaurants use to prepare our meals, the plastic hiding in tea bags, the plastic packaging of so many products we use every day! It’s overwhelming… hence focusing on the Top 4!

Plastic Water Bottles
It is possible to get by in Cambodia without using plastic water bottles, a bit of organisation and know-how and it’s quite easy. Remote areas of Cambodia will have large clay/terracotta pots with drinking water in them, Trailblazer Foundation have done a tremendous job at providing remote communities and NGOs with water filters and a lot of restaurants have filtered or 20L bottled water. In Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville a lot of guesthouses have water filters and will refill your drink bottle for 1-2,000 riel (25-50 cents).

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I did an experiment over the last week, if I used single use water bottles, I would have consumed around 28-30 500ml bottles – just me, just one week. It would have cost $3.50-$3.75, instead by using the 20L bottle it cost me around $0.50 for the whole week! So… over a year $26 versus $195. Cost effective and better for the environment don’t you think?

Myth! A lot of discussion occurs around minerals in water that are filtered out for the bottled water we drink. So I asked my doctor if I was missing out on any essential nutrients because of this. She told me the only mineral I need is fluoride, which I get in my toothpaste (foils my plan to go to plastic-free toothpaste, but there you go).

Plastic Shopping Bags
This is absolutely the easiest thing to avoid – easy!! I always take my own bag shopping and I’ve easily been able to avoid plastic shopping bags. Lessons learned when market shopping and I now have a container and some jars so I can buy tofu, coconut milk and fresh cut fruit without the need for a bag. Simple. Something new on the horizon will be kasava starch bags…. soon soon.

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Take away cups
My philosophy is that coffee is a treat not a necessity. If I don’t have my own cup, I don’t need to get a coffee. You don’t need a fancy custom designed coffee cup for that purpose, you can use a jar or any other suitable item. If your coffee place is close to your work you can take a mug. For fruit shakes, I have a reusable bottle that I take and they shake-makers are happy to use it. At road side stalls, they usually have the reusable plastic cups for tea/water, so I ask them to use that for my shake – easy 🙂

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Straws
Okay… this is the hard one! I take a bamboo straw with me everywhere, I ask in Khmer for no straw, I choose drinks I know won’t come with a straw and… with a week to go, I have accumulated at least a dozen straws in July 😦 Help!!!!! Please send in suggestions, advice, anything to help combat straws… small but nasty!

Meet Mr Sopheap

Meet Mr Sopheap, a teacher in a rural school outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia. We met Sopheap through the Plastic Free July initiatives in Cambodia and we think he’s so fantastic we want to share his story with you.

Sopheap lives around 25 km from Siem Reap. When he was young he would ride his bicycle into town every day so that he could go to school. This in itself shows the determination he had to learn. Now he’s a teacher and spends his day between two schools inspiring and teaching the children of his village. The first time we met, a mutual friend took me out to his house, we sat outside under a wooden shelter and talked about our passion for the environment, our friend patiently waited as we talked for hours. I was and still am inspired by what Sopheap has achieved. He is very humble about it and humble in his lifestyle that it warms my heart to know how much he gives to his community.

Where Sopheap lives, the road is mostly clay. We’re now entering rainy season and this road is a nightmare in the wet weather. For the weeks leading up to rainy season, he has rallied the community to spend a little bit of time each Saturday morning to put some sand on top of the clay and top it up to help them through the wet weather. Then he gives them lunch in gratitude.

He is working on a composting project and again, involves the community to share this knowledge and the fruit that it bears.

And he is working on waste management, though there are few easy solutions at this time. Siem Reap only gained a waste management company in the last 12 or so months, step out of the town and there’s nothing. Yet, plastic wrapped snacks and drinks have easily made their way into the villages, leaving villagers with a bit of a mess and a big problem with how to dispose the waste. Despite this, Sopheap encourages the people in his village to separate items and keep the rubbish together and any opportunity he’ll send some back to town where it can be disposed of a little better than it can be in the village. For a very long time Cambodians would burn their waste, which was fine when it was lotus and banana leaves… now that plastic has made it’s appearance the disposal methods haven’t changed but no one warned the Cambodian people of the perils of burning plastic… until now.

Last week he invited me to visit his school and speak with the children. We started the session with a clean up around the schoolyard and neighbouring areas. Then all children were industrious in washing their hands, great to see when personal hygiene is still lacking in many areas of Cambodia. There was so much enthusiasm in this process! We then sorted through the rubbish to see what the worst culprits were and we asked the kids what they thought too. We had a great discussion about plastic vs nature, how to use less plastic bags and water bottles and why it’s bad to burn plastic. The kids were interested and asked questions and will continue to learn from Sopheap in their regular classes.

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With Sopheap determined to teach his village about the issues of plastic, I’m honoured to be able to support and encourage and help in any small way I can. He already knows what needs to be done, but it’s always more fun with a friend.

July 1 – let’s get this started

The day began with a visit to ABCs and Rice school to set up an area for the senior class to put their plastic for the month. The teacher who’s been helping out my weekly class here at Mr Thorn from the farm were on hand but really Mr Thorn did it all, we provided encouragement and posed for the photos! He let us help a bit 😉

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Then a bit of admin work before going to meet up with representatives from the main organisations supporting the campaign. We ended up being a small group but we felt like we had some immensely productive discussion. One of the topics being tackled in Siem Reap at the moment is the use of plastic straws. Many organisations have made a change to bamboo, though I still feel like we don’t really need a straw all the time anyway. Sara from Haven Training Restaurant said they never give a straw unless their customer requests one, which is 4-5 per day. She feels this was still really damaging for the environment but wasn’t sure about being able to clean bamboo straws well. So they did some experiments and have found they can effectively clean, then sterilise the straws in boiling water before they get used again – brilliant!

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Nesa from JWOC teaches the students science with a strong focus on the environment and wanting to make changes to how we see plastic. She was happy to take a bit of food away in the biodegradable packaging that New Leaf Book Cafe supplied.

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From this meeting, Sara and I went over to Haven – today was a special day for the team at Haven – they were receiving their goody bag kits to help them in their Plastic Free July commitments, plus a ‘dilemma’ bag for when things don’t quite go as planned. They’re starting with 1 week of trying to use no plastic…

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Next meeting; with a friend starting to look at introducing biodegradable shopping bags. Early days but he had some samples which were great to see! and touch! They’re strong, they feel nice and the even smell natural! My colleague Sambath then joined us for a quick game plan discussion pre the launch party in the evening. The first ‘dilemma’ for me occurred here. Despite asking for no straw… my drink order came with a straw! Then Sambath embraced the opportunity to talk to the manager and he got them signed on to give up straws for the month of July! Brilliant!!

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Then it was time to spruce up and get to the venue! Swing by the restaurant doing the catering – who were a generous supporter of the event, then get ready at Long’s Bar the venue chosen to launch Plastic Free July due to their eco friendly attitude.

As people flooded in it became even more apparent how much people care about this issue and it was wonderful and reassuring that we can make a difference. A brief speech explaining how the campaign works and some excellent questions from the crowd and my was it a crowd!

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At the end of the month we will donate any collected plastic to local NGO/projects that are reusing plastic waste to create great things! Rehash Trash will take plastic bags and make fancy handbags and cute nesting bowls. Eco Soap will be able to distribute more of their soap to NGOs and hygiene projects when we give them more containers for the soap and Husk will use all the little bits and pieces in their plastic bricks project. Just great work by all!

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More for you soon, in the meantime, take care of each other and take care of the planet.

Sarah x

… before July

Written on the eve of Plastic Free July

Tomorrow is the day, well the official day, that Plastic Free July makes it’s way to Siem Reap, Cambodia. The truth is, it really began in February.

When Climate Reality Project shared a video to its leaders and encouraged us to share them, a small group of environmental enthusiasts and some unsuspecting digital nomads watched a short video on climate change and they began to respond. The grade 2 classes at one of the international schools were the first to get a greater insight into what they can do to waste less – hey, they even gave us a few tips! A local school in the temple area was next; they focussed on recycling and environment one day a week for a month, making skipping ropes from old plastic bags and learning why using less to look after our planet is in their power.

In April, whilst aiming to raise awareness, Shinta Mani Resort ran an inspiring event; inviting local business owners to an afternoon of networking and sharing initiatives on waste reduction. In the lead up to this event I boldly volunteered myself as a speaker, then immediately was intimidated and nervous at the prospect of talking to so many people on a topic so dear to me in a town so new to me! Well, it was a hit and there was an article in the local paper!! (Read the Phnom Penh Post article here!)

Then Plastic Free July was on! Out in the open, unleashed in Siem Reap.

With the official start of the campaign tomorrow I feel as though we’re already making a huge difference. Over the last 3 months, local businesses and education providers have made time to discuss the environment and how we can all make changes to make a huge, positive difference. I feel extremely proud of the trainees and staff at Haven Training Restaurant, the seniors class at ABCs and Rice, the staff taking the lead at JWOC and the inspiring perseverance to make this a core learning area at many of the schools in and near Siem Reap.

We’re proud to be holding a community event at New Leaf Book Café – a wonderful social enterprise in the heart of town for these businesses and education facility staff to get together and share ideas – forging an ongoing group to support one another and continue to make a positive change.

We’re excited to kick off the month with a launch party at Long’s Bar – a new local bar with environment at the core of their business (and mighty fine drinks); where they’ve sought out reusable straws and made their furniture from delivery crates – a first in Siem Reap (the second I know of in Cambodia) – eat your heart out Australia 😉

In the last two weeks the most heart-warming and wonderful thing has happened. I got a volunteer to help me out, we met for coffee to talk about volunteering as I also work for a responsible tourism organisation called ConCERT, the next thing I knew, Sam was putting out her hand to help with Plastic Free July! The following day as I left a meeting in Prasat Chhas village, where more great people are bringing this message to their villages and schools, I met another Australian working in education here in Siem Reap and her head teacher; both keen to join the campaign and 30 metres down the road I was to meet my next volunteer, Sambath, who’s been quietly influencing people in Battambang where he’s from and tourists who he takes on tours around Cambodia, inspiring them to take care of the environment.

Now they’re flooding in, it’s so wonderful that everyone sees the need and the urgency to make a positive difference.

This is just a small part of what I’ve experienced in the lead up to July and I can’t wait to share more stories with you as the month goes on.

Take care of each other and take care of the planet,
Sarah
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