GARBAGE provides a snapshot of what is really going on in a community. In Cambodia, along the banks of the Siem Reap River south of the town of Siem Reap, a picture emerges. With no waste collection services, many residents of this riverside community throw their waste directly into the water, where it is carried downstream and out of sight. Back in the city of Toronto, where citizens have access to either public or private waste collection services, the situation is obviously very different. Still, there is much to be learned in the contrast.
Because the town of Siem Reap is the gateway to the temples of Angkor Wat, one of Southeast Asia's major tourism destinations, the aesthetic appearance of the river concerns local authorities. The practice of throwing garbage into the river also has implications for water quality and for the quality of life of the downstream residents who must deal with the accumulation of the discarded wastes. Other methods of waste disposal in this community also bear long-term environmental implications. While many burn their trash, others bury it in their yards or litter in public spaces.
In the summer of 2004, a team of researchers from the University of Toronto's Waste-Econ program went to Siem Reap as part of an ongoing project to examine waste-related issues in Southeast Asia. Working with a team of researchers from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the Canadian team helped assess whether community-based waste management would be feasible in this community. (1) Community-based waste management relies heavily on the participation and co-operation of community members to identify waste-related concerns, develop responses to those concerns, and participate in the collection and transportation of waste.
In Siem Reap, unrecycled waste is thrown in the river, burned, buried or littered. This is uncommon in Toronto. But Toronto's failure to find local solutions for the city's waste-related problems has led to a different set of unsustainable practices--politically, economically and environmentally. Due to inadequate waste reduction efforts and the unwillingness of surrounding communities to accept Toronto's waste, the city has found landfill space further afield. Toronto currently sends 120 trucks of garbage to Michigan each day, the equivalent of 1.25 million tonnes per year. At $117 (Cdn) per tonne, the cost for shipping Toronto's garbage adds up to about $146 million per year. (2)...
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