The River Ocean Cleanup (ROC) team demonstrated remarkable dedication and efficiency during the three-day Water Festival, undertaking a massive cleanup operation along the city’s riverbanks. 

The team’s efforts led to the removal of more than 15 tonnes of rubbish, equivalent to 20 boatloads, from the Tonle Sap River’s surface and its edges during the November 26-28 celebration, significantly enhancing the river’s landscape and highlighting the importance of maintaining clean aquatic ecosystems.

“To conclude the environmental clean-up programme, our team is on duty around the clock to clean up the river and its banks,” executive director of ROC Nou Sovann stated.

He noted that the volume of waste collected this year exceeded that of previous years. However, the enthusiastic participation of youth, environmental groups, private companies and authorities along the river, the festival’s venue, was crucial to the cleanup’s success.

Over 100 volunteers and around 20 core staff members were involved, supported by two boats.

“While [ROC] collected 15 tonnes, other groups might have gathered an additional 15 tonnes, amounting to a total of around 30 tonnes cleared from the river and its shores,” he told The Post. 

“The challenge remains in retrieving around 10 to 20 per cent of the rubbish that is difficult to access,” he said.

The trash boats continuously transported the refuse to the waste-free centre for disposal and recycling.

In addition to the immediate cleanup efforts, Sovann underscored the broader environmental impact, emphasising the importance of prompt rubbish removal in restoring the city’s beauty, mitigating odour from decomposing waste and preserving river biodiversity. He said leaving waste in the river has a serious impact on the environment and fish populations.

He expressed concern over the prevailing attitudes towards rubbish collection, particularly among older generations, and called for greater community involvement in environmental stewardship.

He said that a small number of people still consider rubbish collection or packaging to be shameful, leaving the task to rubbish collectors and cleaning teams.

“We cannot help but appreciate the youth, as well as the municipal authorities who are very involved and doing a commendable job. Even [Prime Minister Hun Manet’s] bodyguards were involved in [the effort],” said.

According to Sovann, since its inception in July 2020, ROC has been crucial in addressing river pollution, especially in the capital, Phnom Penh. Its efforts have been supported by German NGO everwave, which provides technical assistance and financial support.

He also advocated for the participation of private companies that could supply additional boats for various purposes when there were shortages during missions.

Looking ahead, Sovann shared ambitious plans to expand cleanup operations across the Kingdom’s major rivers and coastal areas. The group will also conduct operations during the upcoming 10th Sea Festival, to be held in Kep from December 1-3. 

To date, the organisation has collected over 900 tonnes of refuse from the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers and coastal areas, as per the ROC.

During the festival, the Ministry of Environment, youth groups and NGOs also took part in the waste management campaign, in particular through the ministry’s “Today I will not use plastic” initiative. They called for better trash disposal and reduction in the use of plastic. 

Chheng Kim Sun, secretary of state at the ministry, said this year’s festival-goers have managed their refuse disposal far better than at previous events. He believed this indicates an increasing awareness of the importance of caring for the environment by the wider public.

He said the ministry had placed more than one thousand trash bins along the riverside during the Water Festival, which was attended by more than one million visitors each day.