Friday, June 11, 2010

Cambodian Factories Seek Eco-Friendly Power Alternatives

Almost every day for the past 15 years Cheang Vet, a roadside mechanic near Phnom Penh’s Cambodian-Japanese Friendship Bridge, has witnessed the constant flow of traffic making its way in and out of the capital by its main northeasterly access point.

But in the last decade, as the number of people employed in Cambodia’s garment sector has increased from about 25,000 in 2000 to around 300,000 today, he has noticed a steady increase in one particular type of vehicle entering Phnom Penh: heavy-load trucks carrying huge stacks of firewood.

“There are at least 10 trucks a day carrying about two and a half tons of firewood,” Mr. Vet estimated. “They tell me they are on their way to the garment factories on the other side of the city.”

The majority of the country’s garment factories — making clothes for brand names in the U.S. and European markets — use firewood to heat old-fashioned boilers that produce hot water for dying fabrics and steam for ironing.

Some factories depend on firewood to supply all of their energy needs, according to industry experts.

Indeed, the use of firewood for energy is widely considered better for the environment than fossil fuels, as trees can be replanted to offset carbon emissions released during combustion. But replanting plans are limited here, while demand for firewood is growing.

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