It is important that we find new ways of consuming and producing that is sustainable.
Waste management has several challenges such as waste quantity and characteristics, availability of technology and waste management know-how.
In the past, when there was little industrialisation, fewer technologies and less population, the amount of waste generated was low. And the nature of waste generated was also largely biodegradable.
Today, though, we produce a tremendous amount of waste and most of the waste we generate is non-biodegradable and hazardous, such as electronic parts, plastics and toxic chemicals. Thus, managing such waste poses a big challenge for the world, requiring us to find innovative solutions like shifting from a linear to a circular economy.
In Bhutan, we are beginning to consume not just more but also consume products with higher non-biodegradable components. At the same time, we are not adequately equipped or informed about managing waste that is generated as a consequence of our changing consumption habits.
To illustrate the point, think of snacking on a fruit and zaw (puffed rice) as opposed to eating candies and chips. Think of the waste generated when we consume them and what happens to the waste that comes from packaging. Now let’s consider other things that we consume today: toiletries, pre-packaged foods, soft drinks, candies, cleaning products, mobile phones, computers, home appliances, cars . . . The list goes on. And we can imagine the amount and kind of waste that could be generated from all these products.
In a disposal-centric waste management system that is characteristic of a linear economy, waste is generally disposed without any effort made towards resource recovery from waste. If we continue to practice such a system, we will soon exhaust the limited resources that we have on earth.
Therefore, circular economy is an alternative to linear economy. In simple terms, circular economy is where products are designed in such a way that their components and materials can be reused and recycled so that we gain the highest utility and value at all times. Circular economy is similar to the 3R principle: reduce, reuse and recycle. But it is more focused on industry (production) and requires a major shift in the way we use and own things. Since there is no such thing as waste in a circular economy (as all the components that may otherwise be considered “waste” can be reused), moving towards a circular economy can be a sustainable solution to global waste management.
Where in the picture does Bhutan appear and what role could we play? At first glance, it may seem like we don’t have a role to play at all because of the smallness of our size and the number of industries we have that produce end-use products. However, as consumers of modern products like mobile phones, packaged food, computers and vehicles, we are responsible for creating waste and thus have a big role to play in finding solutions to our own waste management problem.
What we can do as consumers is, firstly, take the 3R principle seriously and actually reduce, reuse and recycle waste in whatever ways we can. Secondly, we can actively participate in regional collaborations such as the ‘3R Forum in Asia and the Pacific’ to 1) learn about best practice on proper handling of different waste and, 2) set up a mechanism for recycling and “take back” system so that the waste does not end up in a landfill and goes as raw material for production instead. Thirdly, Bhutan can be ambitious and lead the change towards circular economy by building our human resource capacity that will equip our youth to redesign systems and rethink business models to fit the concept of having a circular economy.
Green Public Procurement in Bhutan Project (EU SWITCH-Asia)