In 1976, Kezang Norbu took a decision that his friends that time thought was dirty.

He opened a small waste shop and started collecting waste in Thimphu to sell it to India. He was 37 years old.

At 80, Kezang Norbu is still in the business. He didn’t keep count of how much waste he has collected and sold, but considering the span of his time, the 80-year-old must have collected thousands of tonnes of waste.

Today, he runs TN Waste, a large waste house spread across more than two acres at Torsa, Phuentsholing. It keeps him busy everyday.

“I am the first Bhutanese to start collecting waste,” he said, adding that people looked down on him for his job. “People often told me it was a derogatory job to collect garbage.”

But today, 43 years later, Kezang Norbu said he has some wealth and is satisfied with the four decades of collecting waste.

Born in Radhi, Trashigang, his parents died when he was young. As the only child, he also did not have many relatives to support him. Kezang Norbu said he had the privilege of serving His Royal Highness Prince Namgyal Wangchuck who helped him with the idea and the fund.

TN Wastes today collects two to three truckloads of tin and metal in a month. These waste are all sold to industries in the Pasakha industrial estate. Everyday, TN Wastes also sell about 10 truckloads of empty glass (beer) bottles to breweries in Pasakha.

However, it is the plastic waste that is not recycled and reused within Bhutan. In a month, Kezang Norbu collects about 40 metric tonnes (MT) of pet bottles and about 50MT of cardboard paper, which is sold outside.

Except for Samtse, Kezang Norbu said waste at his shop in Torsa come from all the dzongkhags.

Although good for his income, the octogenarian is alarmed by the increase of waste in the country.

“I remember the time when it was hard to collect one truck of waste in a month,” he said. “Time has changed now. We are drowning in waste.”

Kezang guesstimates that pet bottles would fill and cover up the entire space of Phuentsholing, if the bottles were not compressed. If the waste is not managed properly, the whole country would be garbage, he added.

Kezang Norbu still actively participates at the waste house in Torsa. But it is not without his wife by the side.

“She is the main person now who handles all the financial matters,” he said. “I am an old man now.”

Inside the shop, two huge machines compress pet bottles and cardboard paper. Kezang Norbu says he might not live to see his country get rid of waste. His advice to the young might affect his business, but he is honest.

“It is everybody’s responsibility to reduce waste at source and control waste.”

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing