If your heart is attached to something dear to you, you will always find a way to make it work. Giant steps forward usually start with baby steps and most good ideas start with one person taking it seriously and then finding others who have been waiting for something like this to happen without even knowing it.
The Phnom Penh Minimalist and Freecycle Facebook group has been around for about two years now. It was founded by long-time Cambodian resident Irina Chakraborty and now has over 5,000 members – locals and expats – who want to make a small contribution to Cambodia’s environmental sustainability by reducing consumption by donating things, reusing old things. and recycle what no one else wants.
Chakraborty moved to Cambodia to take a break after completing his doctoral dissertation. She came to visit an old friend here and look after her friend’s dog for a few months while he was away and by the end of 2011 she had decided to move here herself.
She said her inspiration for creating the band was environmentalism and minimalism as core philosophical principles.
“I have a background in environmental engineering and had previously worked in sanitation and wastewater treatment. In many cultures, there is a stigma around “used” items, which compounds the consumer crisis we currently find ourselves in. But I’ve always liked vintage clothes, reusing, recycling, and in fact I feel that generally people in Phnom Penh appreciate second-hand quality. products more than they do new cheap ones.
“I wanted to start a band like this many years ago, but saw that there was already a ‘freecycle’ band that wasn’t active. I tried messaging the admins to see if they needed help with moderation etc, but got no response from them. Eventually, it felt like the right time for me to start my own band because there wasn’t much to do,” she said.
Chakraborty, 41, who has Finnish nationality but an ancestry spanning several countries which she describes as “complicated”, says the aim is to reduce the consumption of cheap new waste, promote the reuse of consumer goods and to get people interested in sustainable living and resource sharing.
“The group makes it easier for people to get rid of things they don’t need and also request used items they’re looking for,” she says.
So far, she says the group seems to be working really well for people who want to declutter or people who are moving. Some people post requests for items they might need as a first option before going to the store and buying it new.
People also post broken item requests to pick up spare parts for other broken items like the glass part of a French press, a fan motor, or a blender pitcher.
“If you go through the messages you may see complaints about ‘no-shows’ where people book an item but don’t come on time to pick it up, but I think that’s a minority of cases. You can also see that people are more clear about their expectations like how long they will wait for someone to pick up an item etc. I have also used the group to do surveys on environment related topics such as food packaging,” she told The Post.
She says some people just don’t understand the point of asking if someone has a cheap or easy-to-find item to donate and some comments are suggestions of where to buy the item instead of offers. of donations, which completely misses the interest of the group. and sometimes she posts reminders about the purpose of the group.
“Most people know where to buy an HDMI cable for $5, but why not ask the group first if anyone has one more lying around? These are the most commonly used items in a household that will most often be available through the group, logically,” she says.
A recurring complaint is that some people claim items too quickly – perhaps to resell – and it’s unfair to other members.
“My suggestion for this is that the person making the donation can exercise their discretion as to who receives the item. On the other hand, if the goal is to declutter as quickly as possible, then someone who can claiming and picking up an item quickly can serve exactly that purpose,” she says.
Chakraborty says there are rules for the group and certain things are prohibited, such as no posts for sale, no animal adoption posts and no complicated barter because it doesn’t seem very effective. Beyond that, she has guidelines on how to be respectful to one another when donating or requesting items.
That said, according to Chakraborty, almost everyone seems to understand the group’s purpose and follow the rules, so any issues with the minimalists proved to be minimal.
A member who recently joined the group, Niki Saunders, says she learned about it when her friend shared a post from her timeline with the group.
Saunders had posted on her timeline about an old man who had helped fix her bike tire and she found out that not only did he have no place to live – just a tent pitched behind a house – but when she asked how she could send him a photo she took of him fixing his tire she found out he also had no access to facebook or the internet because he only had an old Nokia phone.
Her post which was originally only seen by her Facebook friends was posted in the group. He asked if anyone wanted to gift the man an old smartphone for his help as he had never owned one.
“When my message was shared with the group, a lot more people saw it and I was able to find someone who wanted to donate his smartphone to the old man who fixed my bike. So the group improved the situation of someone who didn’t have access to what the other members of the group had and didn’t need. This meant that someone who had never been able to afford a smartphone could have one for the very first time,” says Saunder.
Saunders, 36, says she will recommend this group to more people, especially her artist friends who may need interesting materials to create things.
“I think it’s a great idea – I see a lot of people giving things to others that would often be thrown away because they can’t be sold. It follows the old adage: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. In the scheme of things, it reduces consumerism, which relieves the environment of much-needed pressure,” adds Saunders, who works as a lecturer at CamEd business school and as an art therapist.
Another active member of the group, Jonny Hamill, has worked for more than 10 years with the NGO Care for Cambodia.
He joined the Phnom Penh Minimalist and Freecycle group a few years ago through a friend who mentioned it to him because the friend thought he would find the group useful both personally and professionally.
Hamill recently used the group to post about collecting bottle caps for a plastic recycling project for his NGO.
“I received a lot of offers. My Messenger inbox was red hot for weeks after I shared the message. I was amazed that the post was shared so many times and received so many likes and comments. And most of my messages were from Khmers. It shows me that plastic waste and environmental issues are important to many people in Cambodia,” says the 43-year-old British expat.
His NGO Care for Cambodia started a recycling project that used plastic milk jugs to recycle into children’s whiteboards and also used plastic bottle caps to recycle into other items such as medals for children. sport events.
Hamill says the group is really helpful and one thing he has learned is that there are a lot of Cambodians interested in the environment these days, although the group is mostly English speaking, which somewhat restricts the participation of Khmers without any knowledge of English, although Google Translate is always an option, even if it’s hit or miss.
“Many Cambodians want to reduce the waste we leave on the planet through reuse and recycling. We have to keep working on this because we only have one world and we have to take care of it. Everyone must do their part by reducing their use of plastic, but also by educating their friends, family and neighbors. It’s not a battle we’ve lost yet, but we need to do a lot more to make sure our planet is healthy for our children and grandchildren,” says Hamill.
Chakraborty says she is delighted to see more and more people joining the group every day and she hopes it will take off in the Khmer community and is ready to make the group officially bilingual with Khmer and English at some point. in the future if the need arises.
“I am happy to be able to help the community and the environment! Let’s see if we can reach 10,000 members. If you are not yet in the group, you are welcome. I hope it will also become a place to launch environmental initiatives and have fruitful discussions that will help us get out of senseless consumption,” she says.
The Phnom Penh Minimalist and Freecycle group can be found via this link: https://bit.ly/PPFreecycle