Chong Khneas

Chong Khneas - Plastic all around you


by Heike Finsterlin

At the northern end of Tonlé Sap lake, only 30-minutes from Siem Reap, you will find the floating villages of Chong Khneas, where close to 1,000 families live.

Due to the closeness to Siem Reap and its setting next to the spectacular mountain of Phnom Krom, thousands of tourists flock to Chong Khneas every day and set off on their 2-hour boat tour through the villages. In the high season hundreds of mini-buses and Chinese tour busses lined up in the parking lot give you a brief idea of the amount of people touring the fishing villages every day.

So what to expect? What to see? Local fishermen on boats? Floating huts? Cute kids playing along the shore, waving at the tourist boats?

Yes, but if you have a closer look at all the "fishing village romance" what you will also see is a village of: plastic!

I've seen a lot of plastic waste since we started the Pssbl x Tonlé Sap project in Cambodia, but the amount of plastic in Chong Khneas left me shocked ... and speechless.

The fishing community is virtually living on top of plastic. The shores along the floating village are covered in bags, cups and plastic water bottles - grown-ups and kids alike are spending their live in what I would call a plastic dumpsight!

"So, why don't they clean up", you're asking? Yes, I hear you! And yes, in a perfect world that would have happened. Many of them are careless with their living space and the environment, but we also have to face it: the floating villages are a logistical nightmare in a developing country. The villagers lack education about plastic pollution, lack of knowledge about the life span of plastic ... and a total lack of infrastructure. The "age of plastic" water bottles, bags and take-away packaging have taken over the village and clashed with their habits as fishermen living on the water. Which means, garbage was thrown into the lake or left behind on the shores just like it was done in the "pre-plastic era" when most of their trash was organic waste. A fatal habit dealing with today's average garbage consumption!

Driving along the village you can see, people have started fighting plastic pollution. Many families are already collecting recycable garbage, such as PET bottles and cans - which they can sell to plastic and metal dealers - but that still leaves behind the non-recycable waste! Lots of it!

You can see many families burning the plastic waste right in the middle of their village, next to their kids, food and the water .. a solution as bad as leaving it on the ground!

So what to do? Even a one week clean-up with 1,000 people could only slightly improve the situation out there and will not provide any solutions for the future.

We were contacted by the monks from the pagoda at the end of the village - the last stronghold on the shore of Tonlé Sap. They are urgently searching for solutions and are confident, that together with the villagers they can fight the plastic! It is an enormous challenge, and needs everybody on board for education, engament and strong leaders from the village. But for everybody living in Chong Khneas - and all of us living on the same earth and sharing one ocean, I hope we manage!

It's Pssbl to make a difference!