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Wednesday, December 12, 2007



'...at the bottom of the cliff there was another pile of garbage. And we decided that one big pile is better than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up we decided to throw ours down.'

from Alice's Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie
©1966, 1967 (Renewed) by Appleseed Music Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Fly-tipping is an English expression that, to my knowledge, has not yet reached Australia. Wikipedia defines it as: '...illegally dumping waste somewhere other than an authorized landfill. It is the illegal deposit of any waste onto land, i.e., waste dumped or tipped on a site with no licence to accept waste.'

I first heard the expression when a photo on one of my flickr pages (see link on sidebar) was invited to be placed in a group for photos of fly-tipping. Returning to Cambodia, I felt the streets of Phnom Penh were a wonderful resource for photos for the group. I took a few shots and offered them to the group. A group administrator replied: 'This is not exactly flytipping. This is a market. This kind of rubbish is regularly collected and it is piled up in that agreed expectation. Yes it looks untidy but there's a civil contract here between those who pile up the rubbish and those who collect it. Not flytippng! '

I would like to clarify the situation regarding litter in Cambodia as I see it. I'm not sure what the legal situation is but if there are laws against littering or the dumping of rubbish they do not appear to be enforced. It seems to me that in the minds of most Cambodians, any public place is a suitable place to dispose of one's waste. Bins are a rarity. Who needs them? The street is the appropriate place to drop your rubbish. Don't carry it anywhere. Leave it right where you are.

This is not a market area. This is a tourist area. This is what the streets of Phnom Penh look like. Someone starts the pile and others add to it. I took the photo in the early afternoon. The pile will probably continue to grow until it's collected, perhaps during the night.

When I first visited Phnom Penh I thought that no one ever swept the footpaths. I was wrong. One morning I had reason to walk the streets early in the morning and saw many storekeepers sweeping in front of their shops. It didn't make a lot of difference. Within a few hours the paths were as littered as they were the day before.

In Kompong Chhnang it is no different. When I first visited I soon made a few friends. I had bought some food that came in a wrapper. After I'd been carrying the wrapper for a few blocks looking for a bin, one of my friends took it from me and dropped it on the ground. Another group of friends took me climbing a local mountain and they packed lunch. All the wrappings were left behind on the mountain.

Yes, there is some sort of garbage collection from the streets of Phnom Penh and from the market area of Kompong Chhnang but I never see either place looking particularly clean or tidy. There is no home garbage collection here in Kompong Chhnang. People either bury or burn it, or dump it in the street.

I try to dispose of my waste responsibly. It does take a little effort and care. Organic matter I bury in an area I've designated as a future garden. I had considered making a compost bin but figured it would take too long for me to fill it by myself. I also have a dog that eats some of my food scraps. The future garden is below my side verandah and convenient for disposal of water from washing so anything I plant should grow. Any plastic materials that can be recycled I leave outside my gate. There are scavengers who collect it to sell. It doesn't stay for long. Other plastics, such as bags, I bury which I assume is more environmentally friendly than burning. Please tell me if I'm wrong. As much as possible I try to reuse bags and discourage the market vendors from giving me fresh ones. When shopping I try not to buy goods with excessive packaging but even in Cambodia that is difficult.

When I talk to people about littering they ask why it matters. I point out that rubbish heaps encourage rodents and cockroaches that spread diseases. However, I must say that I see more cockroaches in homes in Brisbane than in Cambodia despite Brisbane's cleanliness and pesticide use.

Will the situation ever change? I really don't know. I try not to lecture people too much preferring to practise 'be the change you want to see'.

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Now that I've read this it makes a lot more sense to me. My apologies. Is it possible for you to re-post images from Thailand plus your blog comments on the images. The 'international flytipping' group thrives on a mix of images and explanations for why this occurs. (Yes I recall the Guthrie ballad. It was briliant and treated littering as not worth the attention of the law compared to graver offences. Now we see the link between private littering and fouling our nest in ways we didn't then I guess!) Simon
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