In a manufacturing workshop in Prey Veng province in south-eastern Cambodia, bright colourful plastic houseware products are well organised and stacked neatly from floor to ceiling.
These plastic shelves, baskets, bowls, plates, containers, spatulas, combs and more aren’t imported from China – they are locally made.
The workshop is run by Chea Bopha. It was her idea to start producing common household plastic products herself and making them more durable and cheaper for thrifty local people who don’t like to waste money on disposable junk.
In the mid-2018, she achieved her goal and Cambodians were finally able to use locally made products courtesy of a lady in Prey Veng who attributes her success to the quality of her products and says she now delivers them throughout the country.
Running a plastics business for years, Bopha saw that plastic products were big sellers in the Cambodian market. She thought that if she could manufacture the products herself that it would be more profitable because she could avoid the wasteful and time consuming process of importing them from abroad.
“For five years I’ve been selling plastic products, and I could see the massive demand everyday from my partners and customers. One day I sat down and thought to myself how much easier it would be if I could just produce it myself,” Bopha tells The Post.
Not one to waste time being indecisive, she brought the idea to the dinner table to discuss it with her husband, and plan out how they could make it happen.
With plastic production unavailable locally the technical skills and machines to produce it would have to be imported from abroad, so Bopha’s husband decided to go and seek the knowledge they needed from a neighbouring country.
“The skills involved require direct learning. Therefore, my husband went for technical training for a year in Vietnam. Upon his return, he bought two machines and brought along some technicians because he hadn’t mastered the machine’s usage yet,” Bopha explains.
With the technician’s guidance the first two machines – using different moulds – could produce five products like plastic baskets and tubs.
The business has grown since then and these Cambodian entrepreneurs have added many more machines and can they can now produce up to 85 different kinds of plastic products, including laundry baskets, dishes and other kitchenware.
With prices ranging from 500 riel to 20,000 riel – depending on the size of the item – all of her products are printed with their brand name: Bopha 9999.
Bopha says that her plastic products are better and of higher quality than the stuff imported from the country where her husband learned his techniques from.
“Our plastic materials are tougher, brighter and have no smell at all. We do not use chemicals to a gloss to them. We use 100% pure raw materials. The colour has also been imported from Japan. The polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate are petrochemical plastics which are BPA free. Both the colours and plastics we use will not cause harm to our customers’ health,” Bopha says.
According to the Mayo Clinic, BPA stands for bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1950s that can seep into whatever it comes into contact with. Research has shown that exposure to BPA is linked to a number of alarming health effects and it is still used in some plastics today.
At their Prey Veng warehouse, the machinery is lined up next to the warehouse wall as the finished products are piled up and then packed in sacks.
Bopha says she truly appreciates the fact that Cambodians have started to believe in environment-friendly policies and actions and are interested in recycling plastics, but she says she has no immediate plans to recycle plastic goods but she is instead focusing on lengthening the life of her plastic household products and making them very durable to postpone disposal.
The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of plastics used by consumers are not recyclable by anyone in any country. Contrary to popular notions on the subject, only a small percentage of the plastic humanity is producing currently can be recycled in the traditional sense of the word.
By making her products durable and less likely to be replaced or thrown away, Bopha hopes they can help achieve the goal of reducing the amount of plastic that ends up as rubbish in landfills.
Bopha says it was tough starting up this business when they had zero experience in plastic production and the learning curve and amount of time they had to do it was very challenging.
“Even though we’re producing plastics on our own now, we still have technicians working with us because there are so many machines that we cannot control them all by ourselves.
“We also want to find more technicians so that when our machines aren’t working well or are broken, we don’t need to call them from another country to come here to fix something. That would be very difficult, especially with Covid.
“Not that I do not want to find or trust the local workers, but as we know our country is extremely new to this area of production,” says Bopha.
Aside from the pride she takes in having been the first in Cambodia to produce plastic products here locally, she also takes pride in providing employment to young Cambodians and her business has now trained about 10 of them.
To increase supply demand across the country, Bopha says she needs to scale up to produce at least 100 more plastic products. Items like shopping baskets and large chairs will be added in the near future.
“I would like to urge our people to support more local products in order to create job opportunities for people.Most consumers find local goods expensive, but not our goods. Our prices are reasonable compared to imported goods and our quality is much better,” Bopha says.
For more information Bopha 9999 can be contacted via numbers 0718456662/ 0977226117 or their Facebook page: @CheaBopha9999.