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2 November 2023 - News


Veha, 11, and his friends collecting plastic waste. Photo by Sacha Myers/Save the Children

Veha, 11, and his friends collecting plastic waste. Photo by Sacha Myers/Save the Children

Phnom Penh, 2 November: Children living in floating communities on Tonle Sap Lake in northwest Cambodia are fighting to end pollution and plastic waste, through Save the Children’s innovative BioBars project. 

Pollution is a big issue in Cambodia, due to heavy levels of plastic use, combined with a lack of recycling and waste management facilities. In Phnom Penh alone, around 10 million plastic bags are used on a daily basis. Much of the plastic ends up in the country’s waterways, but the Biobars are designed to stop that from happening. Made from recycled water bottles and fishing nets, the cylindrical ‘bars’ trap floating rubbish.

Around 1.2 million people live in floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake, which is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. There are limited waste management facilities, so people throw their rubbish into the lake, which pollutes the water,depletes fish stocks and impacts on family incomes. 

Kanha, 11, and her family live on Tonle Sap. She said: I feel troubled because in my community, there is a lot of rubbish and it keeps increasing more and more and no tourists are coming to visit. My parents' fishing is also declining.” 

Chanthou, 39, a teacher at a floating school on Tonle Sap, has noticed the impact of pollution on children’s health. He said: They cannot come to school regularly because they fall sick and have a fever. This water contains germs that can cause skin irritations. So it also disturbs the studying of children.” 

Save the Children’s innovative BioBars project offers an economical and environmentally friendly solution. Schoolchildren are taught how to build biobars using old fishing nets and water bottles. Teachers and adults from the local community then place the biobars around the lake to prevent waste from entering communities. Local waste collectors remove the rubbish. 

Children also learn about protecting the environment and they in turn educate their communities about the dangers of throwing rubbish into the lake.  

Ratana, 13, lives on Tonle Sap and took part in the BioBar project last year. She adds: 

“The biobars are very important to the environment. There was a lot of rubbish but this year, there has been some reduction. I am very proud to see that people cleaned up and also reduced pollution.” 

Hong Reaksmey, Country Director of Save the Children Cambodia said: “Children living on Tonle Sap Lake are already vulnerable to ever-increasing climate shocks, such as flooding. It’s unfair that they also have to live amongst mounting waste, which is so damaging to their health. It’s fantastic to see children standing up for themselves and their environment, by encouraging people to stop polluting the lake.” 

Floating plastic is a global problem - only 9% of plastics are recycled properly globally. BioBars could be part of a global solution. The project builds on the success of a similar ‘biobar’ project, implemented by Save the Children in central America, and could easily be replicated in other areas.  

Save the Children supports the most marginalised and disadvantaged children in Tonle Sap, especially those living in remote and hard-to-reach areas. Save the Children works with communities, government, and local NGO partners to improve children’s lives – our programmes include early childhood care and development and basic education. 

Save the Children has been working in Cambodia since 1970. Together with children and local partners, Save the Children leads innovative programmes in child protection, education, child poverty, and health and nutrition, with a strong focus on gender, disability inclusion, and climate change. Save the Children has longstanding relationships with various government ministries, and generates research and evidence to influence policies and practices that promote child rights in Cambodia.