Cambodia’s ‘Rubbish Man’ schools children — for trash

This photo taken on October 1, 2018 shows students sorting out salvaged plastic water bottles in front of a Cambodian flag made from recycled plastic materials at the Coconut School at Kirirom national park in Kampong Speu province. (AFP / TANG CHHIN SOTHY)
Updated 12 October 2018
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Cambodia’s ‘Rubbish Man’ schools children — for trash

  • Cambodian student Roeun Bunthon jots down notes during an English lesson at the “Rubbish School” where tuition is paid for with trash instead of cash
  • In return, needy kids like Bunthon, a former street beggar, can take computer, mathematics and language classes

KIRIROM, Cambodia: Sitting in a building made from used tires, plastic bottles and old sneakers, Cambodian student Roeun Bunthon jots down notes during an English lesson at the “Rubbish School” where tuition is paid for with trash instead of cash.
In return, needy kids like Bunthon, a former street beggar, can take computer, mathematics and language classes — and learn the value of reducing waste in a notoriously polluted country where recycling is nearly non-existent.
“I’ve stopped begging... it’s like I have another chance,” said Bunthon, who paid for his enrollment with a bag of discarded bottle caps.
Located in a lush national park, the Coconut School is built almost entirely from recycled waste and is the brainchild of Ouk Vanday, nicknamed the Rubbish Man, a former hotel manager who dreams of a trash-free Cambodia.
About 65 kids are enrolled at the school, where classroom walls are made of painted car tires and the entrance adorned with a mural of the Cambodian flag made entirely from colorful bottle caps.
Most of that garbage came from students in the form of school fees.
“I use rubbish to educate children by turning garbage into classrooms... so the children will understand the value of using rubbish in a useful way,” the 34-year-old said at the school, which opened a year and a half ago about 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Phnom Penh.
He plans to expand classes in the poor, agricultural province of Kampong Speu to accommodate 200 kids, with a new kindergarten class featuring a wall made from plastic bottles set to open next year.
He’s optimistic the young minds are environmental ambassadors in the making.
“We hope they’ll become new activists in Cambodia, understanding the use, management and recycling of waste,” Vanday told AFP.
Vanday’s inspiration came after traveling around Cambodia and seeing tourist sites clogged with garbage. Troubled by this, he set up a pilot project in Phnom Penh in 2013 before expanding it to a second location in the national park.
Vanday’s vision for a trash-conscious Cambodia is ambitious in a Southeast Asian country where plastic bags and bottles are tossed out without a second thought, many of which end up in garbage-choked cities or smothering once-idyllic beaches.
Cambodia accumulated 3.6 million tons of waste last year, according to the country’s Ministry of Environment.
A mere 11 percent of that gets recycled, while almost half of it is burned or thrown into rivers, causing widespread pollution, said ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra.
The rest is trucked to ever-growing landfills and dump sites, where the piles of garbage emitting methane gas can lead to unexpected and dangerous fires, as well as add to climate change.
These grim scenes are what inspired Vanday to found the Coconut School, which is supported by donations and volunteer teachers, for kids who would get little in the way of environmental education at regular state-run schools.
It is also a chance to help kids who would not be able to afford the after-school programs that have become commonplace for most youngsters across Cambodia.
Public education is free by law, but “supplemental” lessons for English or other extracurricular subjects cost extra, ranging from $5 a class to hundreds of dollars depending on the school and its location. This could be a steep investment in a country where the average person earns under $1,400 per year.
For poorer families in remote areas, the children are sent to beg for money to increase their family income, making it difficult for them to justify paying for extra classes. At his school, Vanday wishes to put an end to this practice.
It has already worked for some.
“My English teacher doesn’t let me beg for money or gamble,” 10-year-old former beggar Sun Sreydow said.
“I’m glad. When I grow up, I want to be a doctor.”


Dead sperm whale in Indonesia found with 6kg of plastic in stomach

Updated 53 min 12 sec ago
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Dead sperm whale in Indonesia found with 6kg of plastic in stomach

  • Indonesia has pledged to reduce marine plastic waste by 70 percent by 2025
  • It is the world’s second biggest contributor to marine debris after China

JAKARTA: A sperm whale has been found dead in Indonesia with 115 plastic cups and 25 plastic bags in its stomach, raising concern among environmentalists and throwing the spotlight on the country’s rubbish problem.
The items were part of nearly six kilograms (13 pounds) of plastic waste discovered in the 9.5-meter (31-foot) carcass when it washed ashore in Wakatobi National Park, in Southeast Sulawesi province, on Monday.
Other debris included flip flops and ripped tarpaulins, the head of Wakatobi tourism, La Ode Saleh Hanan, told AFP on Wednesday.
Conservation group WWF Indonesia said on social media its staff found four plastic bottles and 3.26 kilograms of raffia rope, as well as the plastic bags and cups.
The exact cause of the whale’s death is not yet known but there are signs that “plastic waste might have triggered it,” WWF Indonesia marine species conservation coordinator Dwi Suprapti told AFP.
Wakatobi district, a picturesque collection of four main islands surrounded by a marine reserve, has urged Indonesia’s central government to help tackle the problem of marine debris.
Indonesia is the world’s second biggest contributor to marine debris after China, and a colossal 1.29 million metric tons is estimated to be produced annually.
The problem has grown so bad that Indonesian officials declared a “garbage emergency” last year after a six-kilometer stretch of coast along the island of Bali was swamped with rubbish.
The archipelago of more than 17,000 islands has pledged to reduce marine plastic waste by 70 percent by 2025.
It plans to boost recycling services, curb the use of plastic bags, launch cleanup campaigns and raise public awareness.
But poor waste-processing infrastructure and low awareness among its 260 million inhabitants prove major obstacles.