The dump of Anlong Pi is located in the commune of Trapaing Thom, about 30km from Cambodia’s main tourist town Siem Reap and its Ankor temples. It serves as the principle dumpsite for the Siem Reap province, receiving waste from households, businesses and tourism alike, but also hospital and other hazardous waste .
The Anlong Pi dump was opened as a landfill in 2008 and has since then rapidly expanded so that the operator GAEA bought additional land from surrounding farmers . The company is also in charge of waste collection in the province and collects about 280 tons of garbage daily. Additional 30 tons daily are generated in Angkor and collected by V-Green. It contracts about 500 pickers who went on strike in 2019 to demand better salaries and working conditions . All that waste is brought to Anlong Pi and over the years has been discarded without any control across hundreds of meters. The compressed waste mountains, a mix of organic and inorganic garbage, produce toxic fumes, gases, and leachate that contaminate soil, groundwater, and air. With rainfall and wind, the contamination further spreads to the surroundings. In parts of the dump, waste piles up over water in deep pits, allowing only children to walk over the unstable layers in order to pick recyclable material. Waste is also regularly burned by workers of the dumpsite to make space for the steadily increasing waste volumes, creating even more toxic smoke .
About 300 informal waste pickers work at Anlong Pi dump, living and surviving from collecting food and recyclable materials. More than 100 of them are children, some of whom have left school to work up to 10 hours per day. While some waste pickers come from nearby villages, others live directly at the dump – under harsh conditions, without water and sanitation, and exposed to constant contamination . Thus, illnesses such as diarrhea and respiratory diseases are common, and also cuts and bruises. These edjai - as waste pickers are called in Cambodia – have often spent their whole life at dumpsites, living from what they can find and earning a small income from selling recyclables such as plastic bottles and metals – which is often higher than salaries in factories or construction. Recycled material is sold to intermediaries who usually sell it to recycling centers abroad and receive larger margins of the profit. Waste arrives at every time of the day so that some edjai even work at night with torches. A significant proportion of that waste stems from touristic areas, so that on a lucky day, they may even find more valuable items .
However, while Anlong Pi receives waste that has been removed from tourist sights, it has also started to attract tourism. As journalists report, groups of tourists now stop by on a daily basis to take pictures and gaze at children and poor people working under dangerous conditions without considering the psychological impacts their visit might have on these. As it seems, such forms of "poorism" are now widely spread in Cambodia’s dumps (see also related case entry in the EjAtlas) and are even offered with guided tours, who pay the landfill operators to enter the site .
As the impacts of the uncontrolled dumping of waste were felt more and more, villagers of the Trapaing Thom commune started to mobilize against the dump. In 2015, people held a protest and presented a petition with more than 430 signatures requesting authorities to relocate the dump. They said that for several years, they had now been living with problems like constant stench, flies, sicknesses and respiratory diseases caused by the contamination. Waste would even be dumped next to their homes and uncontrolled waste overflow has stopped cattle from grazing and killed fish. An investigator of the Cambodian Human Rights Association (ADHOC) visiting the site acknowledged the environmental and health impacts on the community and urged authorities to speed up the search for an alternative location, and the operator to find ways to reduce the smell in the meantime .
In August 2017, GAEA opened a new pit near the so-far used dumpsite, which had reached its capacity. It became secured with a metal fence in order to prevent the access of waste pickers. As a response, over 100 of them blocked the entrance street to the dump and demanded its reopening. GAEA explained its measures with environmental and security standards and the risk of accidents and argued that it had previously sought dialogue with the community and offered to employ 120 waste pickers, which was rejected by them. In fact, the offer was not valid for the numerous children and elderly working at the site, who had no other perspective, while most of the adult waste pickers said that as independent workers they would currently make a better living than they would under the offered conditions, and moreover have more freedom to take up additional jobs. Despite attempts by the company to negotiate, the group continued the blockade for several days. As trucks could not access the dumpsite, waste collection in Siem Reap was interrupted and the tourism industry started to complain about piled up garbage in the streets . Finally, the local governor of Prasat Bakong came to intervene and stated to the media: “We would like the company and villagers to stop making trouble” .
In 2018, streets of the Trapaing Thom commune were again blocked by residents affected by the dump, who gathered in at least three occasions to demand its closure. The locals renewed their complaints about the bad smell and ongoing contamination caused by the new pit, particularly in the rainy season when wastewater would flow into their canals and paddy fields. In media reports, they explained that water has become unsafe to drink and made many people fall sick. Waste was now increasingly dumped in the surroundings, further increasing pressure on villagers and agriculture. Farmers said that the situation has become unbearable, but they could not leave because the village is their homeland and they have nowhere else to go. The local and provincial authorities then demanded the company to find a new location. GAEA admitted the problems but said it could only wait for authorities to provide a new site . In September 2019, the community protested again and blamed the company and public authorities for not having found a solution, as announced a long time ago, and thus the promises were renewed .
As it stands now, the site might become relocated at some point, but a solution to tackle the intersecting problems of waste collection and recycling, on the one hand, and poverty and human rights, on the other hand, does not seem to be in sight. In absence of a formal system, recycling in Cambodia today largely relies on the edjai, who are the ones who collect and recycle valuable materials in streets and landfills, usually without any recognition and receiving only small margins of the profit. As photojournalist Miguel Jeronimo documented, recyclables in Cambodia typically pass five to seven middle persons until becoming reprocessed: waste pickers are at the beginning of this line, smaller and larger traders in the middle, and recycling factories on the very other ends, in most cases abroad . According to the Cambodian Education and Waste Management Organization (COMPED), only 15-20 percent of all recycled waste stays in the country, where demand is very low, while the rest is exported . However, countries like China, previously a major waste importer, have banned imports for certain types of waste (e.g. plastic), and countries like Thailand and Vietnam are planning to follow. This means that recycling activities and the livelihoods of people who currently depend on these are increasingly under threat if it becomes more difficult and less profitable to sell recyclables. It also means that Cambodia – which globally also has one of the highest rates of plastic bags consumed per capita  – might soon have to deal with even greater amounts of waste and be compelled to improve recycling .
The amount of solid waste that Cambodia disposes at landfills has quadrupled since 2004, while still only about 40 percent of all waste is actually collected, according to 2016 figures of COMPED . In the province of Siem Reap, about 400 tons of waste are generated daily, but only 280 tons are collected, according to GAEA. While waste volumes are increasing continuously, there is no formal recycling system. Contrary to other parts of Cambodia, waste is collected from households and business who individually subscribe and pay for waste disposal, which means that in many neighborhoods a lot of garbage is not picked up, which incentivizes illegal dumping. GAEA explains this with technical and infrastructural problems in some parts of the province. Residents, in turn, have blamed the company for not picking up waste despite paying .
According to the organization WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment – Globalizing and Organizing), about half of all waste pickers in Cambodia are children, which links to the problem of illiteracy. Waste pickers earn between 4000 and 5000 riels (1 – 1.20 USD) per day on average (children about half), which is still more than in some other jobs . Between 1,500 and 2,000 edjai are estimated to work alone in the country’s dumpsites . While there is no information about further organizing and mobilizing by waste pickers in Anlong Pi, civil society initiatives such as Plastic Free Cambodia are now aiming to reduce waste and increase recycling in Siem Reap; some NGOs also seem to have tried to tackle the issues of child labor and poverty in communities such as Anlong Pi, often trying to provide education and alternative ways to make a living from manufacturing products from recycled material .