Crossing over from Thailand to Cambodia, you don’t expect to see much change on the ground. When you type “Cambodia plastic pollution” on Google, the first story and images to appear are from Sihanoukville. Located in the country’s southwest, Sihanoukville earned the notorious reputation of showing ‘uncomfortable’ images of the country’s problematic relationship with plastic. While it is a fact, there’s a risk that Sihanoukville could become a default template for foreigners’ perception of Cambodia, which may not be the true narrative.
It’s 5 pm in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, and a seafood restaurant is prepping up to cater to a steady stream of customers that may walk in soon. Styrofoam vessels are yanked open by the service staff, their broken lids are dumped in the open on the street with wanton disregard. Plastic bags with shrimps and crabs are emptied out into trays and discarded. People, including tourists, walk by flinging their waste onto the heap. Within a few minutes, a pile of trash transforms into a small mountain on the sidewalk. This is a permanent feature in Phnom Penh’s urban landscape.
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