RefillNotLandfill aims to cut down on the millions of plastic water bottles discarded throughout Southeast Asia each year by offering an alternative: reusable stainless steel and aluminium bottles. In Cambodia alone, the tourism industry produces 4.6 million single use plastic bottles every month, with no recycling. Chamrien Phearak is a Siem Reap native who likes to go by the name of Jack.
He is a Campaign Co-Coordinator with RefillnotLandfill – Asia, a company started by Dean McLachlan and Christian de Boer, in partnership with Jaya House River Park.
Eileen McCormick had a chance to meet with Jack – an upcoming hip Cambodian entrepreneur trying to reduce plastic waste in Cambodia.
Good Times2: What inspired your project?
Jack: RefillNotLandfill was initiated by Dean McLachlan and Christian de Boer from Meru Asia and Jaya House River Park when we realised that Cambodia’s tourism industry is booming but no recycling facility exists. Basically all those 4.6 million bottles monthly end up in the rivers, the ocean and landfills around the country, which is a rather shocking statistic. Keep in mind this is ONLY Cambodia so if you would add up the plastic bottles from Thailand, Vietnam etc., it becomes rather clear that a change is needed.
Good Times2: What is the current waste situation in Cambodia?
Jack: Almost all plastic waste is either burned or ends up in landfills, thus damaging the environment rather severely.
Good Times2: Why are you focusing on tourists and not Cambodians?
Jack: The founders feel they do not have the right to tell Khmer people what to do since this is our country. They do hope to inspire others (Khmers included) by their efforts which are aimed at tourists. Our company does, however, see a growing support from numerous progressive Cambodians in the field of business as well as politics.
Good Times2: Will you have an app to help locate refill stations?
Jack: Apps aren’t the future anymore (I mean you can only have so many apps on your phone) whilst QR codes are the new future and can be updated in real time each time and are thus more user-friendly. The QR code uses GPS technology that’s already inside your phones in Google-Earth. The secret to its success is simplicity.
Good Times2: What about water quality, is that being tested and monitored for people to refill their bottles?
Jack: We work with privately owned bars, restaurants, cafes, hotels and tour companies and it’s in their very own best interest to ONLY provide clean water.
There are now 800+ #refill stations in various countries and it is constantly expanding since bars, cafes etc. have come to an understanding that this initiative often actually brings incremental revenue for them
Good Times2: How does a business apply to become a filling station?
Jack: By simply completing the 1-min Google-form and provide clean drinking water:
On our Google-Earth map (accessible using the QR code) we now have many #refill stations but would so love to multiply that amount by 100s if not 1,000s. It’s all a rather easy process and each #refill station can become “live” within 48 hrs!
This is the URL for the refilling station:http://bit.ly/refillstationreg
Please fill in the 1 min document there and feel free to get as many #refill stations to join as possible. The more the better!
All #refill stations will then be visible at https://refillcambodia.com/map/ and the QR code will direct each user to the nearest #refill station using GPS technology in today’s modern smart phones.
Good Times2: What incentives are being offered for places to become a filling station?
Jack: None apart from hopefully incremental revenue. Also each place that signs up has the option to make their logo on our bottle that they can sell at their place of business.
Good Times2: Is there any possibility of mobile filling stations in the future?
Jack: That would be fantastic and something that could definitely be considered indeed. We have something mobile but it’s not exactly that concept, we work with tourist companies who have become strong advocates for reducing plastic in Cambodia. When people sign up for a tour with them they are given one of our bottles so that they can easily rehydrate when they walk around the city. The tour company also keeps filter water on the bus that can be accessed so in that sense we have sort of made steps towards becoming mobile.
Good Times2: What are some challenges in starting refill stations in Cambodia?
Jack: As far as we have heard, there are no real challenges. However, we have mostly focused on tourists as we transition into behavior change with Cambodian people. We suspect it will be harder to help Cambodians get to a place of understanding as to why you might want to buy a 10-dollar bottle versus just buying small plastic bottles for 10,000 riel ($2.50).
Good Times2: Have you faced any big water companies trying to stop your project?
Jack: Nope. I am sure everyone understands that a change is needed rather urgently. I am hoping that the big water companies will start to provide water to the #refill stations all over the country. This most likely will then require a fee of, let’s say 1,000 riel but that’s understandable.
Good Times2: Could this become profitable for small Cambodian communities?
Jack: I believe so, yes. While a lot of the refill stations are free, some do charge 1,000 riel the price you would pay for water anyway. So those who already sell water or want to can potentially make a bigger profit and become part of a larger network of sellers. Plus they show up on a map making them easily accessible.
Good Times2: Are there any countries that can show best practices to help Cambodia transition to water-filling stations?
Jack: RefillNotLandfill is a very simple initiative that’s taking off big time and now in 5 countries with 800+ #refill stations. The initiative is also dramatically expanding soon into Thailand, Sri Lanka, Maldives and even New Zealand.
Good Times2: How do you ship bottles to them?
Jack: It’s pretty easy to ship to other countries form Cambodia and the company which makes our bottles does a really good job.
Good Times2: Any last words?
Jack: Yes, I am currently helping to expand to Phnom Penh and working on making a water bottle with Khmer writing. We also have a podcast that you can follow as we interview and chat with other participating countries around the world. Please consider buying one of our bottles to support plastic waste reduction, as so many locals depend on the environment for their livelihoods.
Follow RefillNotLandfill on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/refillnotlandfillkh/