On an extremely sunny day somewhere in my third week at Koh Rong, a young man carrying a large bag walked into the Reef Dive Resort Dive shop. He introduced himself to us as Daniel and proceeded to tell us about the ceramic water filters, ideal for isolated life on the mainland.
Daniel is a German self proclaimed environmentalist who has been living in Cambodia for the past couple of months. He, like I felt extremely saddened by the amount of rubbish he saw in the ocean, beaches and rivers. So he decided to do something about it : started the Otres Eco Community.
It must have been fate, as the community had organised an Otres Eco Community beach clean up day the exact day before my scheduled flight to Australia! I had to make it. As with most things in Cambodia, the journey there was long, winding and confusing. I took the Angor ferry from 4K beach on Koh Rong to Sinoukville, on which a tourist got heat stroke. No surprise there as it must have been over 40 degrees in there.
When I got to Sinoukville, I took a motto to Otres 1, then another motto to Otres 2, waded across a river and walked down a filthy beach. I thought I must be nearing the location of Secret Beach as all of these beaches looked in need of a clean up.
I rounded one more headland and saw some people with massive bags wondering around the beach : I had made it!!
I was confronted with a beach which was looking absolutely stunning, all thanks to the 20 or so Otres Eco Community volunteers. The journey to get to Secret Beach took me so long, I had missed 1.5h of the clean up. During this time, the team had cleared 150m of beach from a dump yard to natural beauty.
The Otres Eco Community (OEC) decided to sepparate the rubbish into three different categories : plastic bottles/cups, styrofoam and general waste. In 2.5h 77 bags of rubbish were collected.
This will later help in sorting out the rubbish for recycling and reuse. So far, Cambodia lacks any recycling programs what so ever. This is one of the next projects of OEC.
I also got the pleasure of talking to Daniel about other potential uses for all this rubbish found on beaches. Some of his ideas :
- Filling water bottles with other rubbish and using them as bricks
- Create the first recycling program
Otres Eco Community has several other projects it focuses on, including :
- Clean Otres River
- Community Clean-Ups
- Earthical Plastic Build & Shredder
- Free, safe drinking water for Otres
- Solar Energy Harvesting
- Garbage Reduction
Clean Otres River
Clean Otres River is vital step in cleaning the community, as the coliform bacteria (indicator for sanitary water quality) were too numerous to count in the water testing lab. Manganese levels exceeded WHO standards and Arsenic level exceed the Cambodian Drinking water standard. For people still using this river as a source of water, they are in danger of various neurological disorders, arsenic poisoning, increased risk of cancer, pathogenic diseases and cholera.
On top of the bacteria and chemicals in the water, plastic and other large debris are continually flowing downstream into the oceans.
Community Clean Ups
Now the weekly village clean up has become a staple in the Otres Eco Community agenda. Each week up to 300kg of garbage is collected. These need eager volunteers to spend time making the Otres Village more beautiful and trash free. These efforts have already gained the interest of Khmer news!
“Earthical Plastic Build”
One of the things I was most impressed by in the Otres Community is how in Pachamama many of the buildings are made out of plastics, clay and grass! These environmentally friendly buildings do not only eliminate some waste from landfills by using it instead of walls, but it also shows a creative and possible solution for the future!
Have a look below at some of the photos from these incredible projects :
Otres Eco Community is hoping to get the Plastic Shredder machine in Otres. Developed by Precious Plastic it is an open source design to cut any plastic garbage into small sized pieces. This will help reduce plastic brick production from 30 minutes to 30 seconds.
Free, Safe drinking Water
I am going to dedicate an entire article to one of the methods of eliminating the use of plastic water bottles to have safe drinking water. This is of course the RDI ceramic water filter! A cheap and eco alternative for isolated communities such as Otres or Koh Rong.
I am very much looking forward to going back to Otres and see what else OEC has been up to. Their ideas and dedication will continue inspiring more volunteers to join and help the movement.