from the Cambodia Daily, February 3-4, 2007

One Man's Trash, Another Man's Treasure: Recycling as Transformation

by Kuch Naren and Michelle Vachon

Tin cans and a plastic container become a child's toy


Car tire turned planter featured on the cover of Reyum's upcoming book on creative recycling.

Bomb shrapnel is made into hatchets

At first glance, the small bells simply look pretty, delicately fashioned out of copper. But in fact, they are the ultimate in recycling and an illustration of how Cambodians put to use the leftovers of war and other discarded objects.

The bells started out as bullets, and were recast using clay molds by villagers in Kompong Speu province's Odong district.

Rows of these bell are sometimes used to adorn horses' necks, and a series of photos at the exhibition "Creative Cambodia, Recycling Everyday Materials" held at the Reyum Institute on Phnom Penh's Street 278, shows how they are made.

The exhibition is intended to draw attention to the creativity and know-how behind recycled objects that one may have seen countless times without giving them much thought, Reyum Director Ly Daravuth said.

It includes both recycled objects and photos showing how they were made and are now used, accompanied by short explanations in English and Khmer.

As the exhibition illustrates, bomb shrapnel—in abundant sup-ply due to Cambodia's trouble past—has been melted down and hammered into cleaver blades, painted to serve as incense holders or even made into gongs for pagodas.

A soft drink can end up as a gas lamp, with the metal valve of a tire's inner tube holding the cotton wick.

Car tires get cut and converted into shoes for cattle; garment-factory fabric scraps are woven into rugs and hammocks; and bottle caps are used to make coconut shredders.

A series of photos also demon-strates how disused cars are converted into flatbed trailers, mobile food carts and tuk-tuks.

"What I like the most at the exhibition is that a 2-liter plastic bottle can be made into a nice bunch of [artificial] flowers," said Van Arunmalea, a 19-year-old student at Preah Sisowath High School who attended the exhibition's opening Jan 19.

She was referring to an elaborate table decoration of stylized plastic- flowers standing next to a mobile made of pink-and-white straws.

"I strongly believe that these recycled tools could be sold at markets and [could] get strong support if there was better marketing for them," she said.

Inspiring young people is one of the exhibition's goals, said Reyum researcher Preap Chanmara
'We want to spread the idea [of recycling] among the young generation so that they can get ideas for making new tools from leftover materials," he said Recycling reduces pollution and garbage accumulation, he noted.

The notion of economizing through recycling is very much a part of Cambodia's culture, Ly Daravuth said.

"Elderly people in Cambodia say that a young woman who is wasteful is not a good person," he said.

"They have the wisdom of using what one needs from the Earth," and of avoiding wasting natural resources, which is one of the principles of Buddhism, he added.

The project was borne out of previous research on traditional tools that the institute published in a book in 2001, said Som Prapey, also a researcher at Reyum.

During that research, he said, "we realized that we had never looked into recycled tools that people were using."

This realization led to months of fieldwork. "I interviewed and collected information on recycled tools from vendors on roadsides, in households, from business people and people in general," Som Prapey said.

"We found out that our Cambodian people are great about collecting all discarded material to recycle. They also want to save existing tools from their ancestors, which makes them hesitate to give up their long-used tools. So they recycle them," he said.

Set up in open rooms brimming with light and colors, the varied displays at the exhibition are bound to trigger the curiosity of both children and adults.

The exhibition, which is open daily, runs through March.