Sarah Rhodes is the founder of Plastic Free Cambodia – an environmental service that educates Cambodian society to reduce the use of single-use plastics in order to create a healthier community and environment.
Human Asia eagerly spoke to Sarah recently.
What motivated you to launch Plastic Free Cambodia?
Sarah: I was already advocating for climate change awareness, living in Cambodia it become necessary to narrow the scope and focus on plastic due to the way that it’s used and disposed of. We actually began with a one month campaign and that was the original action with no further intention, but demand for information lead us to increase the scope of the project to include educational workshops.
Describe the plastic pollution problem especially in Cambodia, and how PFC campaign can make a difference.
Sarah: Plastic is used for almost everything in Cambodia because of its versatility but it is discarded on roadsides and in rivers causing massive problems. A lot of people around the world and in Cambodia are unaware of just how toxic plastic is and scientists are discovering new information about this all the time. PFC help businesses move away from plastic in their operations and provide educational workshops to increase people’s knowledge on plastic, pollution and their health. We keep up to date with new information as it’s released so we can provide current and relevant information. We also run the Plastic Free July challenge – which started in Australia in 2011- in Cambodia to help people change their habits.
Tell us about the culture at PFC. How do you embrace environmental sustainability company-wide?
Sarah: Given our mission we generally attract like-minded and environmentally friendly people to the team. It is also our company policy to avoid single-use plastics in our professional and personal lives, so we do live in alignment with the company values. We incorporate this in our day to day and also when we need to organize events.
Tell us about Plastic Free July campaign and what do you expect PFC to accomplish?
Sarah: The Plastic Free July campaign is an awareness and behavioural change campaign. By joining the campaign you focus on the five most common single-use plastics and do your best to avoid them. You can also focus on all single-use plastics, but five is a good place to start. As you go you keep any plastics you do use so you can see week by week which plastics are a challenge to avoid and how much you have improved. By focusing for a whole month, even when the challenge is over and people relax their effort, they will still have picked up some small changes and an increased consciousness about single-use plastic.
This year will be the fourth year we’ve run the campaign in Cambodia and we expect more and more people to notice this activity, get involved and encourage their friends and families to join too. It’s a great way to change the habits of individuals and good for team building when offices and work teams do it together.
How do you fund all of these educational programs and campaign projects?
Sarah: We still consider ourselves a start-up and our goal is to be self-funded within the next couple of years. At present many of our contributors go with no or very little payment for their work. Our casual trainers all get paid for each training they facilitate. But for now, as the founder I have no salary which is a huge challenge. Our main income is from our consulting work and the educational workshops and as the demand for this increases it will help us to fund other projects.
How can people join and contribute to the PFC programs?
Sarah: People can join by making their own personal commitments, by getting their workplace to go plastic-free and by booking educational workshops with us. We get involved with community events wherever possible and post these and other events around the country on our Facebook page, so anyone who’s nearby is welcome to join. Our page is very active and is a great way for people to connect and engage with our programs. Corporate sponsorship and donations are also welcome.
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Sarah, please tell us a little about yourself.
Sarah: I’m from Adelaide, Australia and have spent most of my professional career working in the tourism industry; from hotels to the South Australian Tourism Commission and involved primarily in events and marketing. I’ve lived and worked in just a few other cities before I moved to Cambodia to work for a small NGO called ConCERT (Connecting Communities, Environment and Responsible Tourism).
Why did you choose to work in Cambodia and how do you find the cultural differences?
Sarah: Having spent much time working in marketing I realized my dream when I was at university to work in sustainable tourism; influencing how tourism can have a positive impact on communities and environment through the planning and management process. I considered where tourism was relatively grassroots and decided to go on a scouting trip to Southeast Asia. This is where I learned about ConCERT NGO and I decided to move to Siem Reap and see what I could learn and contribute there.
It’s not always easy being in a different cultural environment however I do my best to understand behaviours and communication styles that differ so much to the Australian culture. I’ve also dedicated myself to learning the local language which is a massive help to navigating the culture as well.
How do you overcome the challenges of advanced sustainability in Cambodia?
Sarah: Patiently. It takes a lot of stamina. I’m determined to keep moving forward, sometimes it feels like two steps forward and ten steps backwards, but ultimately we carry on forwards. It’s an opportunity to be creative and find solutions at the ground level.
If you could give one piece of advice to raise awareness on important environmental issues, what would it be?
Sarah: We have only one planet, let’s take care of it and every living thing upon it. Be conscious about everything you do, live meaningfully and consider the impact of your actions. Everything we do comes back to us, so if we treat the earth well, it will treat us well in return.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs or someone just starting out on their own path?
Sarah: Gather other entrepreneurs, collaborators and partners around you; share and work together. A support network is absolutely critical to success. Entrepreneurship sounds glamorous and it’s vitally important for our future, but it’s hard work and financially challenging, so make sure you don’t become isolated. Remember to look after yourself and take some time out too, it can be all too easy to work 24/7. Set some boundaries and look after your health and wellbeing too.
You can visit Plastic Free Cambodia at https://plasticfreecambodia.com/
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