Waste Management

Waste is an important topic in the tourism industry, especially in developing countries like Cambodia that sees an increase in incoming visitors and in population. Most waste is organic but plastic waste is on the rise, impacting inhabitants’ health and negatively affecting the landscape. The lack of awareness about waste management and the lack of infrastructure are two main obstacles in the fight against waste, which can be detrimental to your business. This is why hotels, restaurants and other businesses need to take action to reduce their waste but also to manage it properly to keep the city and country clean.

Quick & Easy steps to reduce your waste

Reduce: Reducing the amount of waste produced is the first step in managing your waste. This is both a way to decrease the resources used to make the good (e.g. petroleum used to make plastic bags or straws), and decrease the impact during use and after having used the goods (emissions from plastic in landfills).

Reuse: If the waste cannot be reduced, waste should be reused, or repurposed. For instance food scrap could be given for composting, plastic bottles can be used to make eco-bricks, plastic bags can be used to make objects, and so on.

Recycle: If the waste cannot be reused, then it should be recycled (metal cans, plastic bottles, etc.).

  • Plastic waste
  • Organic waste
  • Hazardous waste
  • Others

Plastic bottles

One quick way to reduce your plastic waste is to decrease the number of plastic bottles you are providing to your guests. To do so, switch water bottles for a refill station that you can either provide with free access to your guests or provide it as a charge (e.g. 50 cent). Make your own reusable to provide to guests thanks to Refill not Landfill!

Afraid of the reaction of customers? Advertise in your menu and in your facilities that the water from the refill is entirely clean and that you take these actions to reduce the environmental impact of your facilities. Check our poster templates here.

Plastic straws

Straws are most of the time not necessary to drink and can actually backfire at you as customers are increasingly more aware of the impact of plastic.

Set the example for other business and ban entirely plastic straws, by not putting any straws or look for alternatives. You can find plenty of alternatives in the country, such as metal, bamboo or silicon straws.


Take-away food is often provided with Styrofoam box, plastic cups, plastic bag and cutleries.

The first solution is to ask your customers to bring their own reusable box/cup (more and more restaurants are doing so), and provide plastic bags only if requested.

The second solution is to look for alternatives. Swap Styrofoam box with biodegredable boxes and plastic cutleries with by cardbox cuttleries. Check out our list of suppliers.

Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are not recyclable and often end up in the rivers, ocean or are being burnt.

You can reduce the amount of plastic bags used by giving your staff reusable bags when they go shopping. If you still end up with plastic bags, you can consider giving them away to organisation re-purposing them, for instance  Rehash Trash in Siem Reap, who makes beautiful items such as coaters, bags, or bottle handles out of discarded plastic bags.

Plastic Packaging

Plastic Packaging can be avoided by reducing other items such as plastic bottles as you won’t end up with the pack packaging. Choosing carefully your suppliers for those who are providing items without any plastic packaging will  also enable you  reduce your plastic waste. For instance, Happy + Co in Siem Reap delivers organic fruits and veggies without any plastic.

You can also look for organisations reusing plastic packaging (to make eco-bricks for building houses for instance). They would probably be happy to take on your soft plastic if you have any.

Single-used items

Other single used items include shampoo, oil bottles, combs, soap but also single serving condiments (nutella, jams, etc).

For bathroom items, many facilities are providing shampoo in bottles to be refilled, which also enables to make some saving. For other items, including soaps or toothburst, several hotels only provide such items if requested by customers at the reception desk. At the restaurant, you can avoid single used condiments and provide full size jars that guests can help themselves from.


Organic waste can be reduced first by understanding where the organic comes from: is it during meal preparation or after the meal is served (too much food on the plate)? By looking into this, your business will be able to set actions on where it is needed.

If the waste is created during the meal preparation, you can see how to reduce it (you don’t necessarily to take off the peel of organic veggies for instance, or can find creative recipes to make with food waste such as banana peel chips!).

If the waste is produced mostly after the meal is served, then you could look into possible reducing the portion’s size or reduce unessary food decoration on the plate if not eaten. Some restaurants are now starting to provide smaller portion size to guests but telling them that they can be topped off.


Food scrap is an unvaluable resource that should not be discarded as it can be transformed into natural fertilizer for plants. This is especially relevant of course if your restaurant or hotel has a garden, but it can also be given away.

Composting is pretty straightforward. You only need a compost bin, some soil, food scrap as well as green manure (leafs, grass, etc). You can add all food scrap, except meat, fish or cooked meals as it can attract pest, and can do either warm-composting (even in tropical climate like Cambodia) or normal composting. You can read more about composting here.

If you don’t have a garden, then try to give your food scrap away to pig farms or to community gardens such as Camborea in Siem Reap.


Hazardous waste in the tourism industry is mostly produced by hotels and restaurants, and includes cleaning agents, paints, pesticides, etc. The first action to manage hazardous waste is to see if you can reduce the amount consumed and look for alternatives. For instance, replacing your usual detergent (both for textile and dish) with organic version that are free from harmful chemicals including phosphate, which leads to important algea growth in water source and reduces the water quality.

Safe use and disposal

If you cannot reduce the amount of hazardous waste, it is very important that your business keeps them in closed container and separated from other products to prevent contamination.

You also need to be sure that they are safely disposed of by following supplier indication and the local regulation. Staff training is also paramount to ensure that safety measures is taken when dealing with these substances.


Cardboard is not as harmful as plastic waste as it biodegrades more easily.

In Siem Reap, and probably in other Cambodian cities as well, cardboard can be picked up by waste pickers (who also take plastic bottles).  There are ways nevertheless to reduce the amount of cardboard consumed, by looking for the right supplier (who will be willing to reduce its packaging or is already doing so), or by looking for lasting alternatives (for instance hard coaters that can be found in the markets can replace cardboard coaters).


Aluminium is the material that is the easiest to recycle as it keeps the same properties irrespective of the times it has been recycled. This, along with the value of metal, makes it an valuable item to recycle and is picked up by waste pickers  in Cambodia. However, it does not mean that it should not be reduced as it still use resources to make and recycle it.

If you want to reduce the amount of cans you end up with, you can look for alternatives for instance drinks in glass who can be collected and refilled by the supplier.


Textile from the tourism industry (bedsheet, pillows, tablecloth, uniforms) often end up in landfill while it could actually last longer.

There are several ways you can recycle your old textile. The first one is to donate to people or organisation that might need them. Or, you can also cut them and reuse them as cleaning rags, or anything that you might think of!


There are more and more initiatives coming up now to recycle items from the tourism industry. One of them is EcoSoap Bank, which collect used soap from hotels and transform them into soaps that are either donated to schools and communities or sold for a very low price to consumers. They mix soaps from all different types of hotels (luxury, hostels, etc), thereby ensuring the quality of their soap. Check them out here!

Want to go further?

Manager with responsibilities

Assign responsibilities

Why should you assign someone responsible for your finance but not for your environmental initiatives? The same logic applies here, by having one or several staff members in charge, you ensure that at least one person has ownership over the actions taken.

Set realistic targets

Who likes working without goals? By setting targets to reduce your waste (e.g. reduce non-organic waste to x kg/week by the end of 2019) you can get momentum going and focus from your staff to acheive the objectives. Why not providing rewards to your staff when these targets have been achieved to motivate your employees even more?

Train water management


Taking actions won't work if you don't explain your staff why you are implemeting such initiatives and what are the tasks they need to complete. Whether you are training your staff yourself or find a third party to do it for you, don't forget this important step!

Improve continual improvement

Monitor & Improve

Monitoring will ensure that your actions are paying off and will allow you to rectify in case the amount of waste you produce does not go down. It will also help you see whether your targets have been acheived!

Helpful links

You own an hotel? To go further, you can have a look at our #noplasticinmyhotel pledge and download for free our toolkit for reducing plastic use in your facility.

Check out here the detailed manual on energy management published by Green Hotelier, or find other easy solutions on Marr Consulting International. You can also read our other tools on water management, local support, or energy management, and discover our listed sustainability experts in Cambodia.

Have any questions on the above article, want to share additional waste management measures or get in touch for other reasons?