PEPY tries to go Plastic Free!
On Saturday April 30, PEPY Empowering Youth was lucky enough to take part in a workshop led by Sarah and Cho from Plastic Free Cambodia. Plastic Free Cambodia grew out of the Plastic Free July campaign, which aims to raise awareness about the amount of plastic we use, specifically single-use disposable plastic (e.g. plastic straws, plastic bottles and bags). Plastic Free Cambodia also works with groups to raise awareness of the larger topic of climate change, which is something that the PEPY Empowering Youth Scholarship students learn about in their lessons at the Learning Center. Cambodia is very vulnerable to the effects of climate change and it’s vital for the country’s well-being that people start changing their habits in order to try and reduce these effects.
Saturday’s workshop began with a discussion about climate change: what it is, how it affects us and what we can do to combat it (click here for more information). While the students had all heard of the issue, everyone soon realized that it’s difficult to define exactly what ‘climate’ really means. Are climate and weather the same thing? If not, what is the difference? As we discovered, the word ‘climate’ refers to how the weather (short-term atmospheric conditions) “behaves” over a long period of time, and this behavior is changing dramatically, largely as a result of human activity.
The students were put into groups and asked to brainstorm ideas on the causes of climate change, both globally and more specifically in Cambodia. They came up with a huge range of ideas, such as logging/deforestation (legal and illegal), population increase, large-scale agriculture and burning trash. In fact, for every 1kg of plastic burned, 3kg of carbon dioxide are produced, which goes straight into the atmosphere and contributes to the greenhouse effect. The issue of tourism was also raised in this discussion: of course, tourists can generate a lot of money for the Cambodian economy, but the tourism industry requires vast amounts of water, energy and other resources to keep it going. The need for key players in the industry (e.g. hotels, tour companies), as well as tourists themselves, to actively reduce their impact is extremely important in a country which is so dependent on the tourist dollar.
After looking at the broader topic of climate change, the workshop moved on to looking more specifically at plastic. Sarah and Cho presented the group with some pretty shocking facts, which made everyone realize just how critical the situation is. For example, every piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists in some way. Different types of plastic contain various chemicals which have a range of adverse effects on both our health and the environment (e.g. spreading into groundwater and poisoning plant and animal life), so it is certainly not doing our planet any good to continue accumulating these huge amounts. In Cambodia there is a strong culture of using single-use plastic items on a daily basis, such as Styrofoam food containers and plastic cups, which normally end up at a landfill site (an unsustainable method of rubbish disposal). There is no real recycling system in place and so the amount of plastic will keep increasing, unless people start doing something about it.
Luckily, Cho and Sarah had some great tips about how to reduce our waste, like always keeping a set of chopsticks/fork and spoon in your bag so you don’t need to use disposable ones. They also suggested avoiding bottled water and reusing the bottles you have, as well as reusing plastic bags. On a more general scale, they gave the group some ideas on how to be more environmentally friendly and reduce our impact on the planet. This included ideas like walking or cycling instead of using a moped or car, and turning lights/fans off when you’re not in a room. The session finished with the students being given a mini-project to complete over the course of the next week: think of the plastic item you use most often (e.g. plastic water bottles, plastic straws) and try to reduce your use, or stop using it altogether, for the next week. At the end of the week, the students have to submit a short text telling about their experience.
Climate change is an extremely important issue and young people hold the key to making our world a better and safer place to live in the future. Organizations like Plastic Free Cambodia are doing a great job in raising awareness about the issues, and we’d like to thank Sarah and Cho for taking the time to share their knowledge with PEPY Empowering Youth. It’s time for us to give back to the planet which has given us so much.