Since the start of the Zero Waste Hour initiative in the capital, volunteers collected about 24.4 metric tonnes (MT) of solid and organic wastes.
About 731 individuals, including officials from the Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet, members of civil society organisations, private agencies and volunteers from institutions and schools participated in the four cleaning campaigns conducted in four months.
Among waste collected, plastics constituted the highest component in all the cleaning campaigns conducted, followed by rubber, glass, clothes, wood, metal, and papers.
All components of waste collected were segregated by Thimphu Thromde to be diverted and disposed off.
Observed for an hour on the second day of every month through involvement of offices and institutions, the National Environment Commission Secretariat, as the lead implementing agency aspires to achieve Bhutan’s vision of Zero Waste Society by 2030.
In an effort to move towards the vision, the Zero Waste Hour is expected to eliminate illegal dumping of wastes, inculcate behavioral change towards proper waste management and practice sustainable consumption lifestyle leading to a safe, healthy and clean community environment.
However, despite the efforts, the unchanged dynamics of waste collected from different areas in Thimphu in each cleaning campaign questions the overarching goal of the event.
The Chief Environment Officer with the Waste Management Division, NECS, Thinley Dorji, said that unless a detailed survey is carried out, it couldn’t be determined how effective the programme is in inculcating a sense of social responsibility among residents and communities towards proper waste management.
But he said that in areas where they have cleaned during the campaign, waste is already accumulating. “We have also noticed wastes being accumulated in some private premises for years,” he said.
Thinley Dorji said that landowners and residents would be made responsible to clean their premises henceforth. “Currently, it is in our plan to coordinate with the Thromde and discuss on imposing penalty to those who fail to abide by the rule.”
According to the Waste Prevention and Management Regulation 2012, fines start from Nu 100 for acts such as littering, urinating or defecating and smearing lime and spitting doma in public areas.
A person is liable to pay Nu 20,000 for dumping and releasing waste into prohibited areas and dumping of industrial waste without permit from the relevant authority, according to the regulations.
Thinley Dorji said that the situation and mind-set of people are expected to improve as they keep moving forward with the initiative.
Meanwhile, the Assistant Environment Officer with NECS, Ugyen Tshomo said the initiative is also targeted to reduce waste generation at source, which will help in curbing GHG (greenhouse gas) emission from the waste sector in the long run.
Methane emission from the landfill sites as a result of anaerobic organic waste decay is a major source of manmade methane gas.
“Methane gas emission from the waste sector is 23 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than the common GHG, carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming and climate change,” said Ugyen Tshomo.
Contribution of GHG from waste sector has been increasing in the country since 1999, according to the National Waste Management Strategy 2019.
In fact, by 2050, the GHG emission from the waste sector is projected to increase by six times, from current 200,000 to 1.6M Gigagram.
Today, Thimphu’s only landfill in Memelakha collects around 40.3MT of waste daily.
An increased population growth, economic activities, non-biodegradable goods in the market and change in consumption patterns among the society were known to have led to increased waste generation in the country.
Thimphu’s solid waste generation is projected to increase to 124MT per day by 2027, if an estimated 200,000 people are living in the capital, according to the strategic environment assessment for Thimphu structure plan.
As of March 2017, the population has reached 114,551 according to the Housing Census and Population 2017.