How to reduce your restaurant’s waste in Cambodia

Restaurants and bars are responsible for a significant amount of waste. This includes organic (food) waste, but also plastic, cardboard, oil, cans and glass. Such waste and especially plastic waste is posing an environmental but also a social and economic threat in Cambodia. So what can restaurants and bars do to reduce their waste?

Reduce restaurant and bar waste in Cambodia

​Reduce plastic waste

Swap plastic straws for no straws or reusable ones

Straws are not necessary and are actually provide a lower customers experience for many people (who likes to have a piece of plastic in their drink?). Swap your plastic straws for no straw at all (as WILD is beautifully doing), or give reusable straws (bamboo, metal, silicon). You can also go for biodegradable ones (paper, wheat, rice). Please be aware of biodegradable/compostable straws, as these need to be composted in industrial composting to fully biodegrade and can create more harms than good as they can still be toxic to marine animals. 


Silicon straws: Only one planetKambio

Bamboo straws: KambioApsara Bamboo StrawsMama jungle

Metal straws: Kambio

Glass Straws: Kambio

Rice straw:  Only one planet

Paper straws: ​Cambobulk

Cocktail at an eco-friendly bar, WILD, in Siem reap
WILD bar has a no-straw policy when serving their beautiful cocktails

Switch for glasses of water instead of a plastic bottle

Bars and restaurants are responsible for tonnes of plastic water bottles that could be avoided. First, when customers sit down, give them a glass of (preferably cold) water. This will significantly reduce the number of plastic water bottles asked. Reuse your old glass bottles to store water in the fridge, or use jars to do so.

You can mention on your menu that you are reducing your plastic use and the water provided to guests is safe to drink. This is also a great marketing tool as many customers are looking for places taking actions on plastic waste. Make sure to have a refill station and register your place (for free) on RefillNotLandfill so that people can refill their bottles at your place.

You can also ban plastic bottles as many places are doing. If you are afraid of losing money from the sale of water bottles, you can also charge a bit for the water. Once again, communicating to your clients will make them understand why you are doing this.

Glass water bottle at WILD bar
A glass water bottles has never been more elegant. At WILD bar.

Go fully biodegradable or reusable for your take-away

Take away is associated with lots of plastic. Styrofoam boxes, plastic bags, plastic cups, plastic cutlery, and sometimes plastic straws. To reduce this amount of waste you can:

  • Encourage customers to bring their reusable box/reusable cups and bags. You can either tell them that they can bring their own box, or create an incentive for them to do so. This is notably done by Bang Bang Bakery, which gives a discount when customers bring their own bag and containers.
  • Get biodegradable takeaway boxes: Styrofoam boxes are more and more associated with poor quality. Get biodegradable boxes made in bagass. While these are more expensive than Styrofoam, you could add a small charge (e.g. 10 or 25 cents) to customers when they pay for it, explaining them the reason or incorporate it in your menu pricing. You can also get creative like Hefalump Cafe and make packaging out of banana leaves! 
  • Do not automatically put the food in a plastic bag and ask your customer if they need a bag. If they do, you can get a biodegradable one from Cleanbodia.
    Swap for wooden cutlery. Once again, ask your customers if they need some and if they do, look for alternative ones such as wooden one. ​
Hefalumpcafe banana leaf packaging to reduce plastic waste
Hefalumpcafe using banana leaf packaging to reduce plastic packaging


Biodegradable takeaway boxes and cutlery:  Only One Planet,  Kambio. You can also find them more and more in supermarkets (e.g. Angkor Market in Siem Reap for instance).

Use jars and tableware to reduce single-use plastic

A lot of food items come in single-use packaging (e.g. sugar, butter, jams). While this might be convenient, this generates a lot of plastic waste. To reduce this waste, use jars or other tableware to store your food and serve customers. For sugar, you could also switch from white sugar to local palm sugar, which is healthier and better for the environment. 

Swap single use packaging for jars

Get hand-soap and detergent in refillable bottles

Look for initiatives that can deliver hand-soaps and detergents in refillable bottles as it is the case for Naga Earth and Sonas in Siem Reap. Both initiatives can also deliver in most part of Cambodia

Handmade soap from used cooking oil by Sonas World
Handmade soap from used cooking oil by Sonas World

Reduce plastic packaging, plastic wraps and bags

Packaging (including plastic bags and plastic wrap) makes up a large portion of restaurants’ plastic waste. Ask your suppliers to deliver their products without plastic, or switch to a supplier that can deliver plastic-free (such as Happy+co). You can also provide your supplier of fruits and vegetables with reusable bags, as WILD did. If you still end up with plastic bags, find places that could take them such as Rehash Trash in Siem Reap or IWA Kep to be upcycled.

If your employees go to the market to get your produce, give them reusable bags or basket. You can also use bee-wax wraps from Phendei to replace plastic wrap, as well as use jars or Tupperware to store your food.

Help reduce other people’s waste

One man’s waste is another man’s treasure. This saying applies perfectly here. You can, for instance, buy second-hand items (e.g. cups, plates, glasses) in stores such as Sukura. And find organisations making items out of wasted materials such as Rehash trash. They make beautiful items including coaters out of discarded plastic bags. Even better, you can have a small stand where you sell such items, as well as other as reusable straws, travel kit, etc. as New Leaf and Epic Art Cafe are doing!

Epic Arts' mini eco-products stand

Recycle waste

Recycling in Cambodia might be tricky, and will depend on where you live. In most part of the country, cans, cardboard and sometimes plastic bottles are collected to be recycled, but this  can expend to cooking oil and glass in bigger cities.

Plastic recycling:

Not all plastic can be recycled, and not even all plastic bottles can. Best is, separate the plastic bottles from the rest of the waste and place them outside for edjai (waste pickers) to take them. They might or not take them, depending if they manage to sell them. Most bottles are sent to Thailand and Vietnam, which are unfortunately closing their borders on plastic waste. But it is worth giving a try.

Can/metal recycling:

Aluminium is actually one of the best materials to recycle as it does not lose its quality (which plastic does – hence not all plastic can be recycled). This property makes aluminium highly valuable. This is why you don’t see as many cans on the street as plastic waste: because they have a higher sellable value. Separate it from your normal trash and put it outside for the edjai to pick up. Sorting the waste is healthier for them as they won’t have to sort it out from your trash or the landfill.

Cardboard recycling:

Cardboard is often picked up with the edjai, so best it to separate it from your other waste and leave it on the street.

Glass recycling:

In Siem Reap and starting in Phnom Penh it is now possible to recycle your glass thanks to a project from GAEA and Naga Earth. The glass collected is then crushed into sand, which can be used for construction. Interested? Register your interest here.

Recycle cooking oil:

In Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Naga Earth collects used cooking oil to make biofuel and soaps. A lot of places are giving their oil to street vendors, which is unfortunately unhealthy. Making biofuel out of the cooking oil reduces this health hazard but also reduce carbon emission from normal fuel. Contact Naga Earth if you are interested to give your used oil.


Soap box from Naga Earth
Soap box from Naga Earth

Reduce your food waste

To reduce your food waste, observe when waste is being produced. Do you have a lot of waste while preparing food or after customers have eaten, or both? For the former, try to see if there are ways that you can use the food waste. You can be creative by making banana skin chips, or jams out of discarded fruits for instance. If you see that a lot of food is being left by customers on their plate, adjust the portions to make them smaller. Finally, you can either use your food waste to make your own compost, give it to pig farms, as many restaurants are doing, or give it for composting to someone else. Camborea is taking food waste from restaurants in Siem Reap and GAEA in Kampot. 

Camborea community garden
Camborea uses the compost for the community garden they built.

Your employees can support your restaurant to reduce its waste:

It is important that your employees understand why you are taking these actions and what they can do themselves to reduce plastic use. Organise a session where you discuss the impact of plastic and bad waste management. You can then mention the actions that you will take in the restaurant to reduce your waste. Make it engaging by asking your employees what actions they would think about reducing waste. You can ask Plastic Free Southeast Asia for professional workshops. 

You can also provide them with reusable boxes, bags and bottles so that they can reduce their own plastic use and act as real role models! To keep them motivated and engaged, you could also give rewards (e.g.bonus, “green employee” of the month award) to employees that are striving to help the restaurant reduce its waste.

Let customers know about your restaurant’s actions to reduce its waste 

As mentioned, environmental actions are increasingly looked for by customers. So, don’t hesitate to get the word out about your actions. You can mention this on your menu, having posters in your bar, and on social media! Let us know also about your actions so we can promote what you are doing for the environment and inspire others.

Did you like this article? Do you have other ideas on what actions could restaurants and bars could take to reduce their waste? Let us know! And don’t hesitate to share this article around. You can also have a look at our other articles such as going zero-waste in Siem Reap


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