Pchum Ben Festival has been celebrated for centuries by making offerings to monks in pagodas. Traditional offerings include clothing, incense, candles, canned food, and other daily supplies. Offerings are considered as a good deed, and more importantly a symbolic contribution to Buddhism.
Many Cambodians have made a habit of using plastic packaging for these offerings, due to its convenience and low price. However, this plastic packaging has been recognised as a factor in the sharp increase in plastic waste during the Pchum Ben festival every year.
This year however, plant-based packaging materials are becoming increasingly popular for offerings in Phnom Penh and some other provinces, which is a positive environmental trend and alternative to plastic.
This has increased trade for traditional basket traders.
According to Bun Sokear, a rattan basket seller based in Siem Reap province, customers want a variety of basket designs for Pchum Ben Festival, as it is one of the largest traditional festivals held in Cambodia.
“Many people, especially residents in Phnom Penh and Battambang province, purchase plant-based baskets made from bamboo, rattan, palm and other plants every day. When I asked how they were going to use the basket, they told me it was for offering packaging,” said Sokear.
There are many different types of baskets that are good for offering packaging, however, the bestselling baskets for Pchum Ben are the ones made of palm, said Sokear.
“I think the reason people like the palm baskets for offerings is because they are suitable for medium sized packages, they look nice, and they are affordable,” he said, adding that they range from $1 to $2.50.
At Sotheavy is the founder of the social campaign Think Plastic, who are raising awareness about plastic pollution in Cambodia. She said that the use of plastic has not yet been fully incorporated into Cambodian traditions, and it is not too late to change.
“In the past, Cambodians often used cloth or anything other than plastic to wrap offerings for monks in various ceremonies such as Pchum Ben,” said Sotheavy, adding that in Cambodia, there are many raw materials that can be processed into tools and equipment for packaging.
Think Plastic has endorsed plant-based packaging in order to curb the rise of plastic waste during Pchum Ben Festival. This message has been heard by many environmentalists in the Kingdom, and as a result many people are using plant-based baskets made by local people.
“Some of the plastic used in the offerings for Pchum Ben Festival is really unavoidable. But if we can use eco-friendly packaging instead then we should, to reduce the amount of rubbish in the pagodas during Pchum Ben,” she added.
These handmade baskets made from plants do not cause serious harm to the environment, Sotheavy said.
She added that using handmade packaging such as bamboo, rattan and textile products instead of plastic, supports and preserves the Khmer culture, traditional occupations and the livelihoods of people in rural areas. Additionally, the pagodas can reuse the natural packaging materials for other creative purposes.
The festival started on September 3 and will run until next week; and many Cambodians visit pagodas. If you are planning to make an offering to a pagoda, don’t forget to try eco-friendly packaging!