Jigme Wangchuk

In a transformative moment for Bhutan’s waste management efforts, a delegation of German parliamentarians, accompanied by representatives from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom South Asia, arrived in the country for a short study tour aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation between Bhutan and Germany.

Their visit to Bhutan’s Waste Academy in Thimphu ignited a spark of collaboration and knowledge exchange.

The German delegation, led by Olaf in der Beek, a Member of Parliament, and Dirk Bergner, deputy speaker of the State Parliament, paid a visit to Bhutan’s Waste Academy yesterday and lauded its innovative approach to tackling the nation’s pressing waste problem.

Their visit emphasised the importance of personal responsibility and international collaboration in the realm of waste management.

Bhutan is grappling with a mounting waste issue, generating more than 170 metric tonnes of waste each day. Traditional solutions like landfills are no longer sustainable.

However, Clean Bhutan’s Waste Academy, located in Changjiji, is emerging as a beacon of hope and transformation in the field of waste management.

The Academy is on a mission to redefine how Bhutanese citizens perceive and manage waste.

Its primary objective is crystal clear: prevent waste from ending up in landfills. This goal extends beyond traditional waste management; it encompasses education, empowerment, and the creation of economic opportunities for communities across Bhutan.

Olaf in der Beek expressed his admiration for the locally-generated solutions offered by the Waste Academy, recognising their potential to substantially alleviate Bhutan’s waste challenges.

He stressed the concept of personal responsibility, stating, “If I produce waste, it is my responsibility to address the issue.”

The visit underscored a remarkable opportunity for collaboration between Bhutan and Germany in addressing Bhutan’s waste problem more effectively.

Olaf encouraged the Academy to channel its efforts into developing new products from waste, emphasising the paramount importance of innovation. He envisioned Bhutan as an inspiring global exemplar in waste management, setting new standards through pioneering practices.

One of the Academy’s pioneering initiatives is its partnership with the Changjiji Low-Income Housing Colony, home to approximately 750 families. This collaboration aims to educate residents on effective waste management, alleviating the burden on landfills and safeguarding the environment.

Yet, the Academy’s mission transcends waste management; it delves into the untapped potential within waste itself. Bhutanese citizens are realising that waste can be a source of income, with the Academy currently employing 18 individuals and plans to expand its workforce further.

Anticipating a momentous development, the Waste Academy awaits the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Housing Development Corporation (NHDCL).

This strategic partnership promises to extend the Academy’s reach, facilitating training programmes for households and individuals across Bhutan. The ripple effect of these initiatives has the potential to revolutionise waste management practices nationwide.

The educational dimension of the Academy’s work is equally pivotal. With a current focus on nine waste types, the Academy is poised to expand its curriculum to encompass approximately 30 waste categories. This expansion will empower citizens with comprehensive knowledge of waste management, enabling informed decisions regarding waste disposal.

The Academy explores the concept of upcycling waste, emphasising that waste is not destined for disposal but can be transformed into valuable resources. For instance, the Academy plans to repurpose waste into furniture, destined for schools and Early Childhood Care and Development Centers (ECCDs), contributing to a sustainable circular economy while minimising waste.

Furthermore, the Academy’s commitment to innovation shines through its plan to convert PET bottle lids into a valuable resource: fuel for industrial furnaces. This approach not only mitigates waste, but also addresses energy needs, exemplifying the Academy’s holistic sustainability approach.

Glass waste, often overlooked, will also find a new purpose through the Academy. The plan to convert glass waste into sand for construction opens up a new avenue for sustainable building materials, aligning with Bhutan’s commitment to environmentally friendly practices.

The Academy’s influence extends far and wide, with the NHDCL’s extensive network, boasting not less than 17 housing colonies across the country. This offers an opportunity to implement effective waste management practices and instill a sense of responsibility within communities.

A noteworthy aspect of the Academy’s work is its impact on Bhutan’s youth and women. To date, the Academy has successfully trained approximately 800 individuals, equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to a sustainable future.

Dirk Bergner said that Bhutan has the potential to be a regional exemplar in waste management with the capacity to inspire neighbouring nations. “This, I believe, is the first step of collaboration between Bhutan and Germany in the area of waste management.”

Germany is among the few global leaders in recycling and sustainable waste management. Its well-established waste management system and efficient sorting policies have served as an inspiration for numerous other countries, guiding them towards greener and more environmentally responsible practices in waste disposal and collection.