Safe and Sustainable Waste Management: A Climate Change Adaptation Imperative

Apr 28 2021

Institute for Development Impact (I4DI)

Poor waste collection and disposal—including overuse of incineration—represents a major public health hazard. This is responsible for the spread of diseases and unleashes unnecessary carbon into the atmosphere. When municipal waste management systems lack strong protocols and procedures for proper waste sorting and disposal, hazardous waste materials find their way into dumping sites and, in turn, pollute the surrounding air and waterways, resulting in negative impacts on human, animal and plant life.

In Cambodia, the Institute for Development Impact (I4DI) is directly stimulating both sustainable waste management practices and the growing circular economy movement by developing and deploying a package of civic technology (civic tech) tools. For example, web platforms, smartphone applications, and online dashboards, through its three-year United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Tech for Green Cities (T4GC) Project. The goals of this project are to:

  1. Bring transparency to waste management: the context, challenges and opportunities;
  2. Build a mobile platform to support citizen feedback; and
  3. Bring entrepreneurs together to stimulate economic opportunities based on waste reduction, reuse and recycling (3R) for a clean Cambodia.

T4GC’s recently released civic tech solution, Green Cambodia App, is now setting the stage to help promote more constructive interactions between citizens, government officials and waste management service providers regarding improved service delivery and enhanced waste management practices.

USAID T4GC Project is also supporting municipal authorities and waste management service providers in Banteay Meanchey and Battambang provinces in Cambodia. The goal is to fix waste management service delivery bottlenecks while simultaneously stimulating the expansion of a circular economy based on waste reduction, reuse and recycling, which is all consistent with the Government of Cambodia’s 3R strategy.

Notably, T4GC -facilitated quarterly coordination meetings between government waste management authorities and waste management service providers have been instrumental in promoting productive dialogue and enhanced supply side accountability. This has led to productive engagement in T4GC mobile application user testing, validation and incorporation of the mobile application into official administration announcements, and resolutions to citizens concerning enhanced municipal waste management.

The T4GC app is further enabling citizens, especially youth, to report waste management issues to local service providers and track subsequent progress on their service requests, engendering entrepreneurship among service providers to look for alternative uses of waste. This also puts added pressure on local governments to achieve zero waste to send to landfills.

Most recently, as a result of T4GC efforts, the Banan district administration in Battambang issued a directive (“Deika”) to roll out:

  1. A waste management service fee plan to address waste collection, urban garbage and solid waste management;
  2. An enhanced waste management practices awareness plan; and
  3. A plan to integrate the newly released T4GC mobile application into its official administration announcement to support the implementation of the directive. It is expected that this directive implementation will continue to drive locally owned efforts to address waste management challenges.

Unsurprisingly, the global spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has unleashed additional strains on weak municipal waste management systems and fragile environment in Cambodia. Fortunately, I4DI’s civic tech solutions are proving to be even more timely given the vital role that enhanced waste management plays—as a precautionary measure—to the potential further spread of COVID-19. USAID T4GC Project is also educating both waste management providers and households on the safe handling and disposal of medical and household waste not only to help combat the pandemic, but also to strengthen Cambodia’s climate resilience.

The COVID-19 emergency is just another reminder that traditional waste management practices and business as usual are no longer acceptable in Cambodia—or elsewhere—and detract from building truly healthy and climate adaptive communities. Waste management systems and providers around the world must evolve not only to prevent the further transmission of diseases that plague vulnerable societies, but to ultimately stimulate the expansion of a circular economy. In this way, countries can do right by their businesses, their citizens and the environment.