Chhimi Dema 

Tshewang, 27, dropped out after high school in 2015. He took many jobs—mechanic, driver, construction worker. He is today at Memekhalha in Thimphu, segregating waste.

There are more than 15 people at Memelakha collecting waste. What they collect is sold to scrap dealers in Thimphu.

Wearing a mask, gloves, and a sunhat, Tshewang is looking for recyclable waste. Every Monday to Friday, he is busy scavenging at the landfill site. Pet bottles, glass containers, wires, and metal items bring money.

“It has been a month since I have been working here,” Tshewang said. “There is a huge demand for recyclable waste.”

Tshewang made Nu 35,000 last month from waste he collected from the open dump.

He says that income depends on how much one can work. “We do not work in summer because of the rain and stench from the landfill.”

Tshewang is concerned about his health. “It is a risky job. We inhale toxic gas such as methane. I might not work here for long but I am making a good income as of now.”

Another waste handler said that he makes an income between Nu 12,000 to 15,000 a week. “While we earn, we also reduce the pressure on the dump yard.”

A waste handler said that source segregation could prevent a lot of waste from coming to landfill.  “Notebooks, clothes, jars and containers, most of these can be reused or recycled.”

While some handlers live in the city, others prefer to camp near the dumpsite to save on expenses.

With the coming of the National Waste Management Flagship Programme, the open dumpsite is expected to change significantly. It would become a sanitary landfill where only waste without the potential of recovery would be dumped.