Plastic Free July | EP 147: Sarah Rhodes, Plastic Free Cambodia

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In 1950, the world’s population of 2.5 billion produced just over 1.5 million tons of plastic. Today, with a global population of more than 7 billion people, we product over 320 million tons of plastic… and it’s estimated that this number is set to DOUBLE by the year 2034. And every single day, approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution finds its way into our oceans. 8. million. pieces. Every. Single. Day.

My guest today is doing her part to impact this issue in a big way...

1:57 – The Sarah 101
  • Growing up Adelaide, Australia, Sarah knew from a very young age that she wanted to work in tourism and travel the world. While in graduate school, she discovered a specific passion for sustainability and ecotourism.
  • Sarah took a slight career detour for a few years as a digital marketer for the Tourism Industry. In 2012, she realized was no longer pursuing her dreams of working on sustainability and ecotourism.
  • After searching out those dreams in Australia, she started to broaden her search to Southeast Asia where tourism was an emerging market with opportunities to implement sustainability.
  • Sarah’s search took her through Thailand, Cambodia, and even Laos. While in Cambodia, she met the founder of ConCERT (Connecting Communities, Environment & Responsible Tourism). The experience made such an impact on Sarah that she decided to move from Australia to Cambodia in late 2014 to learn more from ConCERT.
5:00 - Plastic Free July
  • Just before she left Australia, Sarah experienced her first “Plastic Free July” challenge. The experience shaped her ideals around minimizing single-use plastic in daily life.
  • Sarah introduced the challenge to the Siem Reap community in 2015 as a side-project in addition to her full-time job.
  • A local training restaurant called Haven asked Sarah to speak to their staff about why plastic pollution is something we should all be worried about.
  • 18 months ago, Sarah left her job to devote all of her work to Plastic Free Cambodia. She now runs local workshops and online programs to help Cambodian businesses remove plastic from their operations.
9:29 – Baby Steps
  • Sarah learned from the experiences of reducing her own plastic use to teach others how to eliminate plastic from their own daily routines. The first phrases she learned in the Cambodian language of Khmer was “I don’t want a plastic bag”, and “I don’t want a plastic straw.”
  • The reactions she received from communicating these ideas to the community helped her teach locals the same techniques.
  • Most of the time, all we need to do to be understood is speak about where we’re coming from and describe what we want.
10:45 – Getting Rid of Plastic
  • The passion Cambodian people have for learning helped Sarah spark a community desire to start to implementing changes in the local markets.
  • Cambodians are resourceful: Sarah didn’t have to do the work for them, she simply gave them the education to get started.
  • The sheer nature of the tourism industry has caused its operations to revolve around reliance on single-use plastics.
  • A huge part of the problem with recycling in developing nations is that the infrastructure isn’t available to handle recyclables locally, so materials are often shipped off to other countries in Southeast Asia.
20:00 - Incremental Change
  • Local markets are the best place to start implementing small changes toward avoiding small plastics.
  • There is a much greater awareness these days with Cambodians about the dangers of plastic use, and the conversation has shifted to a place where there is opportunity to work on daily behavior and changing old habits.
  • This year, Sarah wants to spend more time launching programs that can be accessible in areas like Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and other local regions.
  • We can make change by focusing on our own unique path and the topics we’re most passionate about.
25:20 Plastic Free Tips:
  • Sarah shares her own personal shopping techniques to cut back on single-use plastics.
  • The most difficult thing lately for Sarah in the plastic free challenges has been dealing with the way milk is packaged around the world.
  • Sarah has been trying her hand at making her own milks including Soy and Oat milk.
  • Since individual sugar packets are often lined with plastic to keep out humidity, an easy workaround is carrying your own small jar of sugar with you in your bag.
29:55 - Getting To Know Our Guest:

Find out what Sarah is most grateful for, the fictional place she would visit if given the chance, healthy social media habits, and the magical place she wants everyone to visit at least once.

10:35 A Memorable Moment

"Have a conversation. Use your words to describe what you want, and when people understand where you’re coming from, then they’re going to be more than happy to oblige most of the time.” - Sarah Rhodes

Meet Your Guest:

Sarah Rhodes has worked in the hospitality and tourism industry throughout her career and has a Masters in Tourism Management where she developed a keen interest in sustainable tourism. Following 4 years working for the South Australian Tourism in online marketing management and project management roles, she undertook training via the Climate Leadership Corps, lead by Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States. After completing this training Sarah moved to Siem Reap, Cambodia where she worked primarily with the NGO sector and responsible tourism practices, during which time Plastic Free Cambodia was formed. Specializing in consulting to businesses and delivering educational workshops on the topic of plastic reduction and other environmental issues. Sarah now also consults to other countries around Southeast Asia thanks to the knowledge she has derived from her experiences and growing knowledge of climate change and plastic pollution issues in the region.

Additional Resources:

158 episodes available. A new episode about every 7 days averaging 45 mins duration .