Reduce, reuse and recycle is a mantra very often cited by people promoting environmentally sustainable practices. Real example of this principle put in practice could be seen in Kampot, a small province in south-western part of Cambodia, which was also selected as a destination of the annual UN Volunteers Retreat.

Every day, 24 tons of waste are produced in Kampot, averaging 0,409 kg of waste per person. Conventional waste management raises many concerns for the environment and health of people and it also requires land for the creation of landfills. This is why the waste management organization CSARO (Community Sanitation and Recycling Organization) decided to partner with Kampot municipality and do things differently. By working with local communities and promoting people’s participation, they manage to minimize the negative impact of waste while creating employment opportunities, reducing gas emissions and producing valuable compost and recycled merchandise.

UNV decided to partner with CSARO to organize its 2013 Annual Retreat to learn from the organization’s experience on how a participatory approach can improve the environment and living conditions within communities. This topic was chosen by UN Volunteers because a large variety of development issues in Cambodia, especially issues connected with environment and waste management could be solved and advanced through increased community mobilization and participation.

Apart from learning about CSARO’s activities during presentations, UN Volunteers had a chance to experience the everyday challenges of a waste picker. Together with CSARO employees, UN Volunteers separated a huge pile of rubbish into more than 1,5 tons of organic materials suitable for composting and recyclable materials, leaving only a small amount of non-recyclables to be transported to a landfill. Because of the heat, the amount of flies and organic waste from durian fruit, known to be one of the smelliest fruits in the world, separating waste was not an easy task. But all volunteers left that morning with a sense of great accomplishment, having processed the amount of waste that usually takes CSARO workers the whole day.

Waste separation and other activities carried out by CSARO lead up to a reduction of 80% of land required for landfills, which not only reduces the cost for solid waste management for the city, but also provides a new source of income for waste-pickers and employees working on recycling in addition to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and improved living conditions in cleaner environment.

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