Choki Wangmo

Waste generation in Thimphu almost doubled during the second nationwide lockdown compared with normal times, according to waste management service providers.

Three waste service providers in Thimphu – Greener Way, Clean City, and Green Bhutan Corporation Limited – are allocated in different zones to collect waste.

Increase in waste generation is attributed to lack of recycling and segregation activities and movement restriction due to the lockdown.

Founder of Clean City, Jyoti Gurung, said that in normal times people could dump waste at drop-off centres.

“Our collectors have to collect three or four times a week in the area where we collected only twice in the past,” she said, adding that the workers had to stay late into the night working until the daily collection schedule is completed.

She said that in the past, waste collectors segregated waste from the source but due to Covid-19 risks, they were not allowed to touch the waste collected but is directly dumped at the Memelakha landfill.

An official of Thimphu Thromde’s waste management division, Ugyen Tshewang, said that the frequency of waste unloading had increased by almost four to five times a day at the landfill. “It was challenging in the first week.”

Clean City has deployed three dumper trucks and eight staff in the field. The workers are staying at the shelter provided by thromde.

There are about 10 dumper trucks making a maximum of four trips a day within Thimphu. A compactor truck can carry about 3,000kg waste. More than 20 people are involved in handling waste.

Ugyen Tshewang said that most of the waste collected were cardboard and PET bottles.

He said that the increase in such waste was due to movement restriction.

He also said that without scrap dealers, everything has to be collected by the service providers, including recyclable items.

Jyoti Gurung said people crowd near dumper trucks in places without monitoring by frontline workers, increasing risk for workers. “It is hard to monitor and maintain Covid-19 protocol such as social distancing.”

She also said that waste handlers were bullied and harassed by people. “There were incidences of mistreatment in the past. The collectors are working until late hours and they are already under stress due to increased frequency of waste collection. The least we can do is show sympathy.”

North Thimphu residents, however, say the waste collectors come only once a week, making it difficult for them to store waste. “In Kawajangsa, it comes once a week. Dry and wet waste are collected together,” a resident said.

The resident of core areas and South Thimphu also had similar complaints.

Taba residents said that the dumper trucks now came twice a week. “In the past two weeks, the trucks didn’t even come once. The service providers said that Covid-19 testing of workers took time,” a resident said.

Similarly, the residents in Motithang, Hejo, and Babena said that the garbage trucks came twice a week.

An official with Green Bhutan Corporation Limited, responsible for waste collection in south Thimphu, said that they couldn’t collect for the past few days since the compactor broke down and had difficulties procuring the parts due to lockdown.

He said that the thromde had provided them with replacement and they were collecting twice a week—dry and wet waste separately. They have five garbage trucks in the field.

A pickup truck is allocated for quarantine waste and to collect waste from red zones.