The International Alliance of Waste Pickers is a union of waste picker organizations representing more than 460,000 workers across 34 countries
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Law Report: Cambodia

Waste Pickers in Cambodia


Cambodia typifies many of the challenges of waste management found in most other developing Asian countries. Ever increasing waste generation, poor or inadequate waste management infrastructure, lack of segregation at source and dumping of waste on streets and vacant land and more importantly, sorting and collection of recyclables by a thriving informal waste trade industry, of which waste pickers are a critical part.

Size and Significance

A large number of waste pickers operate in Cambodia and in the capital city of Phnom Penh, it is estimated that nearly 3000 workers operate in dumps and landfills. Nearly 50 per cent of the workers are children and they collect aluminum, glass and plastics.

Reportedly, Phnom Penh also has 2000 registered waste pickers working on the Phnom Penh Municipality landfill. These waste pickers pay the manager of the landfill to access the waste. A large number of recyclables are exported to Thailand, Vietnam and China.

Working Conditions

Waste pickers work on landfills or dumpsites wading through waste with no protection, vulnerable to injury and contamination. Majority of the workers are below the poverty line and their daily earnings provides only for subsistence living for their large families. Many live in thatched or wooden houses with little access to basic amenities such as water and electricity. With a large of workers being children, illiteracy is rampant. A large number of workers are also migrants from rural Cambodia. Apart from dumps and landfills, waste pickers collect waste from households, commercial establishments, streets, markets, bins and sell to scrap dealers.


For an entire day’s work, an average adult waste picker earns 4000 to 5000 riels and children earn half that amount. The national poverty line in Cambodia in the year 2009 was 3258 riels per person per day in Phnom Penh; 2705 riels in urban areas; and 2429 riels in rural areas.

Law and Policy

The Ministry of Environment (MOE) set up in 1993 manages solid waste along with the respective municipal or provincial authority. Under the supervision of MOE, Department of Environment Pollution Control (DEPC) has been established to control and monitor all wastes, toxic and hazardous substances.

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, 1993: Articles 54 and 64 imposes an obligation on the state to protect state property, natural resource and the environment, and human health from any harmful substances.

Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management, 1996: It provides for national and regional environmental plans, environmental impact assessment, natural resource management, environment protection, monitoring, public participation, access to information and penalties. In addition, the law contains three sub-decrees on water pollution control, solid waste management, and air and noise pollution control.

Sub-decree on Solid Waste Management, 1999: The sub-decree provides the legal framework necessary to manage all types of solid wastes in a way to ensure that the integrity and quality of the environment and natural resources. It also seeks to implement enforce the legislation on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management, 1996. This sub-decree covers all matters pertaining to disposal, storage, collection, transport, recycling, dumping of garbage, and hazardous waste.

Other Regulations

a) The Joint Declaration Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Environment on Solid Wastes and Litter Management in Cambodia provides for a mechanism manage solid waste at provincial and municipal levels.

b) The Environmental Guideline on Solid Waste Management, 2006 provides for effective solid waste management by adopting greater safety and sound waste management practices.

c) A draft National 3R Strategy on Wastes Management has been developed in 2008 to allow for proper recycling, or otherwise disposing of televisions, computer monitors, and other electronic equipment and components of such equipment in an environmentally sound manner.

See full text of Law and Policies here.

Organisation and Voice

There are several NGOs working on issues of waste pickers, particularly those focused on child waste pickers. In Phnom Penh, two NGOs work on issues of waste management – Community Sanitation and Recycling Organization (CSARO) and Cambodian Education and Waste management Organization (COMPED).

In fact, CSARO organised waste pickers to collect organic waste at source in zones where CINTRI, a private company contracted by the Phnom Penh Municipality to collect waste exclusively in several zones within Phnom Penh for 49 years.