About half of supermarket customers have stopped using plastic bags after the government started to require a charge of 400 riel one year ago, cashiers in Phnom Penh said.
Three supermarket cashiers in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district told reporters that many customers have changed their behavior from using plastic bags to bringing their own reusable cloth bags instead.
Phon Leakhena, a cashier at A to Z Market on St. 57, said it seemed that customers only used plastic bags about half the time, when they forget to bring a bag from home.
“Some people’s houses are far and it is hard carrying many things [without a bag] so they need the plastic bag,” she said.
At nearby Super Duper, cashier Khem Markara said he sometimes explained the environmental impact of using plastic bags to some customers. Many brought reusable bags from home, he said.
However, “sometimes they come from home without anything in their hand. If they do not buy a plastic bag, when they ride their motorbike it would be hard to carry,” he said.
Nop Teth, a cashier at an Aeon mini mart, said customers buy plastic bags only when they end up choosing more and more things to buy after they arrive.
“The customer has reduced the use of plastic bags more than before,” he said. “They save plastic bags that they used before and then use it again.”
Sok Sakun, a university student sitting down at a table inside the Aeon mart, said he only buys plastic bags around 30 to 40 percent of the time.
Sometimes he forgets to bring his own bag from home, he said. He usually carries products in his hands because he knows that using plastic makes pollution.
“We can reuse them and we can reduce their use by putting things in the same plastic bag,” he said.
Cambodian Youth Network natural resources project coordinator Phin Savey said the policy to charge for plastic bags should apply to people selling goods at all markets, not just supermarkets.
“I see that at many markets, not supermarkets, plastic bags seem to be very popular, so the government should be strengthening or using methods of advertising and promotion that will encourage people to use materials that can be reused many times, such as baskets, or bags made from cloth,” he said.
Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said that “as soon as possible” the plastic bag fee would be extended to all sellers, not just supermarkets.
But it was also important to find replacements to plastic bags, he said.
“We have some companies that produce plastic … from natural materials that are easy to dissolve, so we encourage more to invest in plastic production that doesn’t affect the environment,” he said.
Environment Ministry Say Sam Al spoke on Monday at the ministry’s annual conference that taxing plastic bags at supermarkets was based on criticisms about the environment from citizens in many forums.
People wanted changes to respond to climate change and promote green development and sustainable living in Cambodia, he said, and many were happy with the policy.
In Phnom Penh alone, around 10 million plastic bags are used on a daily basis, according to the U.N. Development Program. Plastic breaks down into microplastics that can pollute both the sea and freshwater sources.